According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, interoperability, in the context of healthcare, can be defined as the ability of different healthcare information systems belonging to different organizations to work together for the betterment of patient care through the efficient exchange of data.
While interoperability has always been a long-term goal of healthcare professionals, it hasn’t become a reality until recently thanks to the advancement of information technology. Below is an overview of just some of the new medical tech and care management strategies that are helping to achieve true interoperability in healthcare.
Overall, the cloud will probably be the thing that brings the most change in regards to helping the healthcare industry achieve interoperability. While the cloud can seem too hazy to define, it can be best thought of as the use of server networks to jointly store information and provide services such as access to online applications. The cloud is scalable, meaning it can use more resources as needed. The cloud is also designed in a way that one server resource failing will not destroy the data hosted since the other servers will have backups.
The cloud has great advantages for healthcare. It provides an efficient means of transmitting and receiving data. This usually comes in the form of medical data such as EMRs, electronic medical records, and digital medical imagery.
This data exchange can occur inside a single organization. However, unlike the networks of the past that were limited to a single organization, the cloud can be used to transfer data between multiple organizations as well. A patient’s EMR, for example, can be sent from a doctor’s practice to a hospital many miles away almost instantaneously through a cloud network connection. According to Forbes, well over 80 percent of healthcare organizations implement cloud based apps.
Digital Radiological Imagery
As mentioned, one thing that can be stored on and transferred through a cloud network is medical imagery. Radiological medical imagery has itself experienced a transformation towards interoperability thanks to the development of PACS, Picture Archiving and Communication System. Radiology PACS technology is used to create and distribute digital versions of radiological medical imagery such as X-Rays,
mammograms or CT scans. In the past, many of these kinds of medical imagery were only available as physical photographs or slides. However, PACS has completely digitized the process so that radiological medical images are now available as computer files.
A modern PACS is designed to be used with cloud computing. The images are automatically saved to the network and then can be accessed through the cloud. This means doctors being able to load an X-ray on a tablet immediately after taking the X-ray to show the patient. It also means a specialist in a far away location from a patient being able to access medical imagery created at that patient’s doctor’s office almost instantly through a cloud network connection. There are plenty of ways PACS can be used to help streamline the creation and application of medical imagery to improve patient care.
One thing interoperability in healthcare will help bring about is remotely supplied patient care. Not everyone lives in a large city. Some patients live in locations far away from the specialists they need to remain in communication with to treat their serious illness. Thanks to the cloud as well as medical devices which can transfer medical information directly to the cloud through a Wi-Fi connection, such specialists may be able to study medical readings for patients hundreds or even thousands of miles away in real time. In the future, many doctor visits may be performed via teleconference.
The present is an exciting time in terms of the impact new technology is having on medicine and healthcare. Due to the ease of creating and transferring digital medical information, patient care will improve exponentially. Interoperability in healthcare is certain to save countless lives.
By: Lee Flynn
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