Current Trends: Technology in Healthcare

Introduction

Technology is a commonplace in the 21st century with cross cutting applications in a wide range of disciplines. Healthcare has not been excepted, with a number of processes, practices and principles of nursing and medicine significantly transformed by the introduction of different technologies in the healthcare system. The effects of technology have been extremely positive with better quality of health outcomes, increased efficiency in healthcare delivery and administration, easier access to health related information and quicker and more reliable clinical decision making systems (Goh, Gao, & Agarwal, 2011). Clinical diagnosis has been remarkably transformed with invasive procedures largely replaced by imaging and other non-invasive technologies. Improvements continue to be explored with better technologies emerging to replace extant ones by the day. While there are plenty of opportunities that come with this trend, challenges and ethical dilemmas are also abound. This calls for a holistic approach to the issue, examining both clinical and non-clinical dimensions of technology in healthcare. The present paper examines the rationale and relevance of technology, its integration into clinical practice and how lobbying can be done to influence the local government into funding its infusion into the healthcare system. Appropriate evidence drawn from peer reviewed journals is presented in support of arguments.

Rationale for the topic

There are several reasons why the topic on technology in healthcare was selected. First, technology is quite a recent topic with major breakthroughs made largely towards the end of the last century. This implies that there is fairly inadequate body of knowledge on the subject both in published and unpublished sources. Discussions of the nature in this paper therefore play a critical role in furthering knowledge and broadening the understanding of technology amongst healthcare stakeholders. Secondly, technology is highly dynamic with new ways of doing things coming up daily. This implies that knowledge expires quite quickly and requires timely updates in order to remain relevant (Huston, 2012). No one can claim to have at any time a full understanding of technology and its applications in any domain as a result. The intention of the paper is therefore to also explore the latest trends that govern the technological landscape in healthcare. More importantly, technology raises ethical challenges of unique nature. These appear as grey areas previously uncovered by existing ethical and standards codes. This makes it an interesting topic to discuss with exciting possibilities for nursing and medical practice in general.

Relevance of Material

The current subject has significant relevance to nursing and healthcare in general. This is because technology has transformed the outlook of healthcare systems around the world and continues to create new possibilities every day. Contemporary hospitals are quite different from those in the past in terms of variety of services, roles of medical professionals and the limits of care due to technological advancements. For instance, the role of nurses has changed in some cases from a hands-on activity to monitoring. On the same note, there have emerged new disciplines in healthcare with IT professionals and biomedical engineers becoming part of the healthcare staff likely to be found in any hospital (Goh, Gao, & Agarwal, 2011). Additionally, healthcare delivery has become more interdisciplinary than before thanks to systems that allow for coordination and integration of care. Applications like Electronic Health Records (EHR) allow for remote access of medical information and records by multiple specialists and health professionals offering clinical support. Therefore, discussing technology in healthcare is relevant with respect to the transformations that have been witnessed, requiring proper understanding for the purposes of taking opportunities and addressing challenges. 

Technology in healthcare also exudes relevance in the search for new solutions for longstanding health problems and forecasting new ones. There are many health problems that have been difficult to solve using normative methods and only technology remains as the possible solution. These include HIV/AIDS and Ebola epidemics which continue to pose serious health challenges both locally and abroad.  In recent times, the encroachment of chronic diseases in global populations has aggravated healthcare problems, with many countries hard pressed for solutions. Technology in research and clinical practice will help to discover new cures, diagnostic methods and allow for the better understanding and recording of prevalence rates for the purposes of monitoring (Goh, Gao, & Agarwal, 2011). Diseases like cancer and HIV/AIDS that still have no comprehensive curative solutions may find some in the near future through technological advancement. Even at the present, new technologies continue to avail better prevention, diagnostic and management models. On a different note, technology in healthcare can also be used to predict future health problems like growing disease burdens more so with respect to chronic illnesses. It is possible to estimate populations at risk and offer better planning in that regard. For instance, the demand for nurses and nursing care is expected to grow immensely in the near future as the baby boom generation comes of age. Technology can help to forecast and plan efficiently in preparation for the same.

Technology also addresses the recalcitrant problem of cost in healthcare. Many healthcare systems in the world remain financially unfair or just unaffordable for the majority of the population. Notably, one of the reasons of high cost of healthcare is poor quality which increases re-admittance rates thus increasing the cost burden to both the patient and the government. With technology, there is better diagnosis and efficient delivery of interventions, which works a long way to cut costs. For instance, bar coding technology has reduced chances of delivering wrong prescriptions and this shall go a long way to reduce health costs (Huston, 2012). Another avenue of cost mitigation is matching healthcare budgets with health outcomes. This has been a great challenge in systems such as the US’ where despite having one of the largest healthcare budgets in the world, the healthcare outcomes are still among the most unsatisfactory. There is a need to ensure than increased healthcare investments correspond to better quality outcomes for various healthcare systems around the world. Only technology can determine the cause of the current discordance as well as how to invest financial resources for better quality outcomes. 

Integration to Clinical Practice

Technology has been directly integrated into healthcare through offering of healthcare services remotely in telehealth and telenursing. The two facets refer to the provision of healthcare services through an array of information technology applications with the patient and the healthcare professional away from each other. This is done through computer stations where patients and health professionals can directly interact. Such stations include microphones, direct video links and peripherals that can be used to monitor health aspects of the patient such as pulse rates and blood sugar (Huston, 2013).  Patient clinical data can therefore be retrieved, transmitted and interpreted by a remote healthcare professional who can then direct the patient on what to do. Tools like biosensors have come in handy in this regard, with convenient monitoring of patients such as the elderly and those with chronic diseases. This has increased patient satisfaction for patient populations like the elderly who need to stay at home and receive care from there rather than spend time on the hospital bed. Elsewhere, remote monitoring systems also reduce the cost of healthcare both directly and by reducing the chances of nosocomial infections.

Another way through which technology has been integrated into healthcare is in clinical diagnosis. In the past, diagnostic methods were invasive and highly inefficient. However, with advancement in imaging technologies, patients can now be diagnosed with minimum effect on their bodies. The imaging and other non-invasive technologies have also been improved with time to drastically reduce any effects on the patient such as those emanating from exposure to radiation (Huston, 2013). Worthy to note, such technologically advanced diagnostic mechanisms have higher sensitivity and are therefore more efficient in determining the clinical conditions affecting patients. The use of Health Information Technology (HIT) has also reduced errors in diagnosis, enabled the timely release of diagnoses and reduced the number of missed diagnoses (El-Kareh, Hasan, & Schiff, 2013). This is through a number of information technology tools that ensure efficient collation of healthcare information, ordering and analysis of the data, safe storage and easy access to all parties that desire to act on it. Such applications have made it easier for follow ups and early screening of asymptomatic patients, with the effect of generally improving the reliability of diagnoses in the management of health problems.

Technology has also been integrated into various clinical processes increasing access and quality of outcomes. Examples of such successes are in robotics technology where the possibility of healthcare delivery in adverse conditions such as wars has increased. Robots have successfully performed surgeries, acted as nurses and delivered patient clinical data. With ongoing research in the application of robotics, there are endless possibilities which shall improve access to healthcare in the near future. Their success in surgery and acting as robotic nurses may help to reduce the ever present shortage of healthcare professionals across the world. Biomechatronics is another exciting field that promises to improve health outcomes in the near future. It helps to come up with technological devices that can mimic the human body and thereby replace some parts in cases of loss or help in research (Huston, 2013). The technology shall feature greatly in the future to help offer solutions such as pancreatic pacemakers for diabetic patients. Therefore, it is apparent that technology has been integrated into health processes and improves quality of outcomes in the end.

Lobbying for Government Support

One of the most efficient ways of lobbying for government support in the integration of technology in healthcare is through various professional bodies. These include associations for nurses and medical doctors that play a huge role in advocacy at the highest levels. Such bodies are respected and have an influence on legislative authority and hence can impact the government into accepting to invest in technology in healthcare (Rose Iris Gonzalez, 2012). They take on interest in advocating for patient safety, quality of health outcomes, funding and legislative and regulatory matters either nationally or within certain areas. They keep track of various legislations affecting practice and testify before government stakeholders in response. Therefore, by raising the matter with such a board and making a strong case for the integration of technology in healthcare, the matter will reach the relevant authorities for action. Since the professional bodies represent thousands of professionals across board, due consideration will be given quite timely.

Another efficient way to pressure the government into supporting the integration of technology is through direct lobbying and partnering with other lobbyists. Nurses and other health professionals can present their case directly to lawmakers and other key decision makers for appropriate action (Rose Iris Gonzalez, 2012). This is fairly easy to do as various stakeholders welcome views and feedback on policy. Therefore, the nurse can take it upon themselves to present evidence supporting their cause to such decision makers for action. However, they can still seek the intervention of professional lobbyists who do it fulltime. These individuals are paid some amount of money in order to advance the cause of a given interest group (Rose Iris Gonzalez, 2012). Their services can come in handy as they understand how to go about it and leave nurses to focus on their clinical work. 

Conclusion

It is therefore apparent that technology is one of the most significant trends in the healthcare industry globally. The dynamism of technology and its qualification as a contemporary issue makes it necessary for discussion for the advancement of knowledge and understanding of the latest trends. Elsewhere, technology in healthcare is relevant due to its transformation of healthcare systems, provision of solutions to new problems and forecasting such and dealing with the perennial cost problem. Integration of technology in healthcare n its part has been witnessed in remote delivery of healthcare services, diagnosis and direct application in processes to improve quality of care. Lobbying for government support with respect to technology may necessitate the intervention of professional bodies or direct lobbying by healthcare professionals and hiring services of professional lobbyists. 

References

El-Kareh, R., Hasan, O., & Schiff, G. D. (2013). Use of health information technology to reduce diagnostic errors. Quality and Safety in Health Care22(Suppl 2), ii40-ii51.

Rose Iris Gonzalez, R. N. (2012). Patient advocacy in the community and legislative arena. Online journal of issues in nursing17(1), D1.

Goh, J. M., Gao, G., & Agarwal, R. (2011). Evolving work routines: adaptive routinization of information technology in healthcare. Information Systems Research22(3), 565-585.

Huston, C. F. (2012). The impact of emerging technology on nursing care: warp speed ahead. Online journal of issues in nursing18(2), 1-1.

Huston, C. J. (2013). Professional issues in nursing: Challenges and opportunities. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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