Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) is a rapidly growing area of innovation, with many hospitals around the United States working to incorporate modern technology and best practices into their healthcare environments. As an industry that’s both heavily regulated and steeped in tradition, change moves slowly in the healthcare environment and, as a result, it’s important that IT staff and other executive decision-makers allocate resources to building IT infrastructures that adequately support front-line healthcare workers.
This article reviews the role of information technology in the healthcare setting and makes suggestions for how those involved in IT in the healthcare industry can work to build better information and technology systems that support caregivers optimally throughout their day.
The Role of IT in Supporting Quality Healthcare
In a successful hospital or clinic, the role of IT staff goes beyond daily maintenance tasks like fixing printers or replacing batteries. A strong information and technology department is constantly researching best practices, innovating new ways to optimize the environment to improve safety and patient care, and making recommendations to executives that control hospital budgets and make purchasing decisions.
IT infrastructure upgrades constitute a serious budgetary commitment for healthcare facilities, and collaboration between IT staff, doctors and nurses, other frontline clinical/support staff, and hospital administrators is a necessity in determining how best to allocate resources. IT staff can support better quality healthcare by recommending and implementing IT changes that improve the hospital’s operational efficiency and patient outcomes – shorter wait times, better access to information for patients and physicians, better infection control, and cost savings are all key considerations.
IT Infrastructure Changes Must Reflect Healthcare Industry Best Practices
If you’re an IT professional looking to upgrade infrastructure at your hospital, it’s important to make investments that reflect current best practices in healthcare. Upgrades are costly, so it makes no sense to upgrade to a system that’s second-rate today and ignores the possibilities of tomorrow.
Government regulations mandate that hospitals maintain electronic medical records, this opens the door for IT infrastructure to streamline access to these records, with the functionality for sharing and distributing them. The proliferation of mobile phones throughout our culture opens new doors for patients to interact with physicians or the facility itself using mobile phones.
API integration is allowing IT departments to centralize control over hospital infrastructure in new ways, and enabling systems and departments that previously ran independently to interface with each other. For example, hospitals can now integrate their security and building management IT infrastructures to automatically turn lights off in unoccupied rooms, generating cost savings.
The message here is that if you’re going to spend money on infrastructure upgrades, you should get something state-of-the-art. In this highly-regulated industry, change can be slow, and there’s no sense waiting ten years to get upgrades that are available today, just to save a little cash when you could have spent a decade benefitting from the improvements.
IT Infrastructure Should Support and Optimize Workflow for Frontline Care Providers
With the above in mind, it’s important to understand that any changes to your IT infrastructure should improve or optimize workflow for your frontline care providers. One of the best opportunities to achieve this is with the adoption of mobile workstations.
The acquisition of one such station per floor of your facility will enable a nurse to visit more patients per hour, immediately documenting patient observations and health status. Nurses already spend up to 50% of their work time on documentation, so optimizing their workflow can allow them to spend more time directly caring for patients.
This is just one example of how IT Infrastructure can be used to optimize workflows, but there are much more. Even the use of motion-activated lighting systems to reduce electricity costs saves someone having to flick the light switch.
IT Infrastructure Should Incorporate Best Practices in Infection Control
Infection control will always be an issue in hospitals, and it is crucial to fully consider the ramifications of any new IT infrastructure upgrade in terms of its infection control implications. People are using their mobile phones more than ever before, that includes physicians and nurses during their work shifts, who may spread disease through the hospital and beyond, via their mobile phones.
This presents a new challenge in terms of infection control, an area of thought which traditionally focuses on the interface between the physician and patient. Someone looking to engage best practices in infection control today might install an anti-infection mobile docking station that hospital staff could use to simultaneously disinfect and charge their mobile phones.
Mobile carts are another great opportunity for enhancing infection control at your hospital – carts and associated hardware are manufactured with an anti-microbial coating. This coating allows the device to be thoroughly cleaned, preventing the spread of germs.
IT Infrastructure Should Support Mobile Integration
Mobile phones are ubiquitous in society, and with the immense capabilities that they offer, any plan to upgrade IT infrastructure in healthcare should attempt to harness that to its full capacity. In addition, there are opportunities to convey information and data to patients, physicians, and other visitors to your facility using mobile phone signals.
A new technology called iBeacon uses the GPS feature of mobile devices to deliver information based on the location of the device. For example, when someone visits your emergency room, you can send them a message saying “Welcome to our hospital. Please wash your hands with the provided disinfectant wash before reporting to the triage nurse. If you suffer from coughing or a fever, kindly wear one of the provided surgical masks to help prevent the spread of germs.”
In this way, your IT infrastructure uses mobile technology to improve customer service, streamline the flow of patients at your facility, communicate effectively, and help to limit infections.
Healthcare IT is a growing area of innovation, and the changes coming right now make this an ideal time for upgrading your IT infrastructure to better serve your patients and care providers. With electronic medical records rapidly becoming commonplace, the infrastructure upgrades available today can advance your healthcare facility by leaps and bounds when it comes to harnessing mobile technology, optimizing staff workflows, and enhancing patient care.