On the clinical side, proactive organizations have embarked on aggressively innovative initiatives, such as providing physicians with wireless devices linked to electronic health records that allows them to review medical histories and place orders. They use auto-identification technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID) and bar codes on patient wristbands and on medication packages. They also offer online digital access to patient information, including images, which cuts time-consuming, error-prone paper management of information. These types of innovations allow seamless, faster decision-making and care, for better outcomes.
On the administrative side, many organizations are in the midst of streamlining business processes. They are striving to increase the promptness and accuracy of billing, the measurement of organizational financial performance, and to improve human resources (HR) functions, and other administrative and back-office functions, critical to operational efficiency. To do this they are integrating enterprise applications or complete enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions and they are implementing services-oriented architectures (SOA). Improved administrative operations contribute to the solvency of the entire healthcare organization and provide the of tenrequired financial transparency. And, improved accuracy of billing leads to improved patient satisfaction and long-term loyalty.
The use of SOAs – which can include the Internet, intranets, and extranets used to facilitate business processes – is becoming a mainstream trend. The protocol independence of an SOA offers flexibility and interoperability for organizations that deploy it within their IT system.
According to analysts at Gartner, many enterprises, such as those in the healthcare sector, will be in the midst of or complete an SOA transition by 2010. International Data Corp. estimates that worldwide spending on software that enables SOA will grow from 1.1 billion Dollar in 2003 to 11 billion Dollar by 2008.
The 21st century healthcare organization is deploying SOA and other advanced technologies to enable transformation within the enterprise. They are leveraging IT to create responsive, interactive, businessdriven processes. That scenario, the transition from inflexible architectures and a mix of disparate systems into an integrated system, is happening in healthcare much as it is in other industries. Throughout for-profit companies and non-profit organizations in all industries, business process standardization and migration to SOA are missioncritical goals.
But, there is a key differentiator in healthcare. No other industry is under more pressure to improve productivity while at the same time complying with a staggering number of regulations and initiatives. Here are just a few of the pressures and initiatives driving growth and IT investment in the healthcare sector:
- Health Insurance Por tability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the U.S., which requires security of patient information, including during electronic transmission.
- Germany’s e-health card initiative promotes usage of electronic cards with patient medical and insurance information.
- National Health Information Infrastructure, an initiative aimed at creating a national healthcare information network, part of a sweeping U.S. federal government push to implement enterprise IT systems.
- Sesame Vitale in France, which calls for electronic smart cards with patient health insurance information.
- The use of diagnosis related groups (DRG) in Germany as a categorization of acute in-patient episodes to determine healthcare reimbursements.
- National Programme for IT, a UK initiative that calls for Web-enablement and automation of patient data.
- Health Infostructure initiative, Canada’s push for standardization and data sharing.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s initiative to push the healthcare sector to use better track-and-trace and product authentication technologies, such as RFID, color-shifting inks, holograms and fingerprints, to curtail medication errors.
- Standards such as DICOM and Health Level 7 (HL7) protocol, which define communication rules for healthcare applications and have gained wide acceptance.
- Diagnosis Procedure Combination (DPC), a prospective payment system, introduced in Japan to promote standardization of health care, and shortening of hospital stay.
Since healthcare organizations have to comply to move forward, the technologies they implement must not only be up to the task, they also must contribute to an overall productivity lift and spur cost reductions. For a healthcare provider, IT innovation is part of a long-term strategy for success.