For many years, the healthcare industry has focused on how technology has created greater efficiency. More can be done faster, smarter, better, cheaper. However, as critical milestones in the evolution of healthcare practice are reached, an important consideration is now pivotal - to what end will the efficiency of technology serve in the future?
In the dawn of a new era of healthcare, where patients are placed squarely at the center, technology becomes more than a tool for efficiency. It is the critical conduit by which advanced communication and information-sharing is made possible. As providers begin to shift their perspective, from productivity to creating positive patient experiences, cloud technology is poised to remove the burden of infrastructure management and foster better collaboration leading to enhanced patient care. This fundamental shift was apparent to me in the following technology-driven trends I saw at the RSNA 2012 conference in November.
Improving patient care in the cloud
Throughout the year, this column has highlighted the types of technologies that were called out at RSNA as tools to help caregivers improve outcomes and drive efficiency. For many healthcare organizations, technology is proving to be an essential element in putting patients first.
- Cloud technology has received a lot of attention owing to its characteristics of flexibility, security and scalability. The cloud enables highly secure consolidated access and storage of patient imaging and information in a centralized repository, rather than in multiple locations. Ultimately, this vastly improves the protection of patient data as well as the speed and ease of communication and information-sharing between multiple healthcare professionals - which creates a comprehensive picture of a patient's health status that helps enable improved outcomes.
- Critical to working in the cloud is a vendor-neutral archive. This provides the ability to ingest and access images from any PACS, allowing numerous information systems to seamlessly integrate with each other in an automated fashion. In this environment, radiologists have more options to use the radiology image viewing systems best suited to their needs without concern for compatibility.
Mobility is, by far, one of the most important trends supported by the movement to the cloud. Today, healthcare organizations everywhere are seeking solutions that make medical imaging data more accessible, fluid, flexible and, most importantly, mobile and device agnostic. Providers' ability to securely access medical images via mobile devices such as tablets allows for more timely care, improved collaboration and helps them communicate better with patients.
RSNA 2012: technology helps put patients first
During his address at RSNA 2012, RSNA President George S. Bisset III, M.D. stated, "in an increasingly consumer-driven healthcare environment of the moment, we have the unique capacity to add new value to the patient experience, simply by demonstrating better that we put patients first in all that we do, and that we understand their needs." This sentiment was echoed throughout the conference; following is a list of some of the patient-centric trends - supported by cloud technology - that caught my eye.
As healthcare undergoes changes and transformations, it is important for hospitals to leverage the innovative technologies which can help support a level and pace of change required in order to put patients first. In my next column we'll explore why putting patients first and having the right cloud-based technology is so important for the success of the ACO model.
Duplicative tests. One session focused on leveraging cloud-based imaging as a way to reduce duplicative imaging. Extensive imaging has been attributed to the rising cost of healthcare and it was noted that up to 20% of imaging performed in the U.S. is unnecessary.
Security. HIPAA and HITECH privacy and security requirements are creating new levels of IT complexity and security management for hospitals. However, with a concrete infrastructure and best-practice security technology and procedures that are consistently updated and monitored, the cloud can provide higher levels of security to protect patient data than most healthcare organizations can on premises.
Patient access. In 2011, RSNA announced the launch of the RSNA Image Share network, a cloud-based network designed to help patients access and control their medical images and reports. The network has already been accessed by more than 2,000 patients since it began operations. Initial funding of $4.7 million provided by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering was recently expanded to $5.3 million for two additional years of support.
Better collaboration. Radiologist Paul Chang spoke at a well-attended plenary session regarding the need for better collaboration and multitasking. "My kids have 20 ways to talk to each other and can articulate . why each of them is important," said Chang. "But as a radiologist, all I have is the report and the phone call. There are too many static reports in healthcare." In his discussion, he focused on the critical nature of leveraging technology to connect with fellow clinicians to provide better care for patients. Some collaborative tools like mobile image viewers enable multiple clinicians to view, analyze, and annotate the same image at the same time.
Barbara White is Director, AT&T ForHealth Cloud Solutions