Information Technology and Ethics/IT and Healthcare

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Information Technology has had a great impact on the efficiency of information systems across virtually every industry. Through various decades it has transformed how businesses run, up to the point that today, most specialized labor is unimaginable without a computer to support it. Healthcare, is not an exception and every day there are greater incentives to bring both industries together.

The management of the information is something integrated in the clinical industry. Doctors and patients interact in a complex information matrix. The doctor can be seen as a manipulator of information in the sense that acquires, processes, stores, reviews and applies information in relation to the history and evolution of the patient and the realization of diagnostic and therapeutic responses. All that information could be used to establish population patterns for a certain disease and has to be stored and organized.

Due to these characteristics of medicine, the advantages of information technology are increasingly used in an environment characterized by an increase in the number and complexity of medical specialties, greater availability of computers, greater computer familiarity, the need to store and transmit a large amount of information and the socioeconomic pressure that demands greater efficiency in the management of resources. Information technology acts on the way in which the patient's data is collected and analyzed, on the communication with other colleagues or specialists and on the biomedical literature that is accessed for decision-making.

Reasons why Healthcare and IT merged[edit]

Healthcare is a current and historically important issue in the United States and around the world. Since the 1950's till now there has been a huge paradigmatic shift in how Healthcare works. Before the dawn of the internet and electronic systems, many patient records were handled in house with the doctor's offices and hospitals. The state would have to audit doctor offices to ensure that privacy and health codes were being met. This was a costly and inefficient way to keep track of everything. This problem was then alleviated by the introduction of information technology.

Some of the native inefficiencies in the healthcare industry were alleviated by information technology. The need to keep track of patient records was the biggest hurdle in the 1970's. However once that hurdle was somewhat automated many more issues and inefficiencies start to reveal themselves. The need for main frames, patient record keeping, insurance integration, and keeping track of data that is invaluable to the healthcare industry. In the 1970's many hospitals began storing their records on a shared mainframe. This then cut out the need to send or mail out patient records. Over the next couple of decades it became clear that there was a need for more complex systems, and many hospitals and health offices still didn't have any of these systems in place.

Some strong incentives emerged in the healthcare industry to start integrating Healthcare and IT solutions. The major reason for large scale integration was the need to standardize and integrate healthcare IT solutions. The main driver of this integration was the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). There are two main parts to this legislation: protection for people who lose their insurance due to losing their jobs and second is the part which affects the IT operations by ensuring the prvacy and security of healt records. It mandates that there should be a standardization for the health care information systems for data exchange and security standards for storing data. The security standards are the first federal safeguard for the patients’ health information. HIPAA also requires that there be an ID number for every entity involved with health care. This allows the government to track if you are entitled to certain services. These mandates created a well strucutured foundation to keep track of who is on who’s policy.

The second biggest reason why IT and healthcare integration moved forward was the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act), part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The logical consensus was that this would help lower the cost of transferring information between providers, insurance carriers and the insureds. This rule basically finalized and enforced the crossover for all involved in IT Health Sector.

Benefits of Health Informatics[edit]

Many years ago, health records were on paper and at risk of being destroyed in a building fire or being lost in theft. Patients had to visit their doctor to either take or make a copy of their health records to give to another doctor. It wasn't accessible elsewhere. With the advancement of information technology and healthcare, hospitals and physicians have been able to store all patient documents on secure servers. Nurses and doctors are now able to simply search for the patient's records and not go through numerous file cabinets. However, Health Informatics goes above and beyond just the accessibility of patient charts. In a hospital for example, a patient who is going through a surgery is allergic to a specific chemical so the system the hospital uses will warn the surgical team and nurses that the patient is allergic to it. It no longer requires relying on a person to read the paper chart and pass the correct information along. Clinics can now pull up past records of their patient, track what medication was provided at what time and dose,

Benefits to Patients

  • Easy access to records on a website provided by the physician or hospital
  • Results from scans and labs are digitized and ready to be faxed, emailed, or sent through the physician's network
  • Medical records are quick to access through a mobile phone app
  • Visiting multiple physicians is efficient due to having medical records on a global network level and not localized to one clinic
  • Access to everything that was done to treat a disease: medication, lab results, vital statistics, and more
  • Able to further educate themselves by having direct access to medical records. Patients can track their medication, symptoms, and how their prognosis is developing.

Benefits to Clinics and Hospitals

  • Shared practice and knowledge about patients, medicines, and results
  • Significant savings because data is shared, procedures don't have to be repeated
  • Specialized care is increasing and hospitals can take advantage of health informatics to better treat patients across multiple specialists. Better coordination, healthier patients
  • Treating patients is no longer about knowing the patient, it's all about the data now. This allows anyone to treat a patient equally without spending days, weeks, or months with the patient
  • Decrease in errors and increase in efficiency [1]
  • Much higher quality care and safer care thanks to health informatics

Health Informatics Revolutionized The Healthcare Industry

  • Studies have shown that hospitals have saved between $37 million and $59 million in a five year period [2]
  • Because of Electronic Medical Records (EMR), malpractice claims have dropped from 49 to 2 from a total of 189 Massachusetts medical practices
  • Lab results have sped up with the use of EMR
  • Patient record audits now have a faster turnaround time from 3.9 hours to 1.4 hours now that it's digital records and not on paper
  • Best of all, healthcare professionals believe health informatics has saved time and reduced efforts

EMRs vs Paper Records to comply with HIPAA[edit]

Why Electronic Medical Records? Information technology (IT) can directly improve the quality of healthcare by providing medical service providers (referred to as provider) with accurate and timely information about the patient [3], [4] The specific kinds of information about the patient that is useful in healthcare decision-making fall into two broad categories:

  1. Health problems: This includes current health condition of the patient and any related symptoms, physical examination results and findings as well as medical test results. In addition, prior medical history is also part of the health record.
  2. Patient Background: This includes specific patient data like Age, Gender, Race, Socioeconomic status, as well as risky behaviors like substance abuse, hazardous occupations, sports, hobbies, or sexual practices, exposures to damage causing occupational and environmental hazards, allergies, and family history.

Before the advent of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), all information about the patient traditionally was kept in paper form in the physician’s office and hospital(s) wherever the patient had ever visited in the past. This kind of arrangement had several disadvantages. Some of the motivations for computerizing patient health records were to get over several difficulties of paper records, for example:

  • Written records were often not clearly readable – Physicians are not well known for very legible handwriting.
  • Written records may not be complete – a given provider’s records for a patient may not have a copy of records from other providers who treated a patient.
  • Written records may be inaccurate – Usually the records are chronological and may not correlate when old information with updated data.
  • Written records were sometimes not accessible by a given medical provider – they were only available where they were located. So a physician could not examine a patient’s records when the patient called the physician at home after hours.
  • Written records had lack of uniformity and standards – There were no standards for paper records. Each provider may have used a different set of data fields that were saved in paper records.
  • Written records had to be faxed – If a provider needed records from another provider, the records had to be faxed. This is a slow transmission mechanism especially for a large file.
  • Where was no Physical Security – Paper records could be easily stolen, lost or accessed by anyone in the medical office.
  • Paper records create sheer physical volume – Over time, health records could become voluminous.

HIPAA and Electronic Medical Records The disadvantages of paper-based patient records required that the information should be computerized. However, if the patient health information is stored (in a computer) or transmitted (between computers), it is subject to HIPAA laws. [5] HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which was passed in 1996. One part of this Act governs how patient health information must be safeguarded while being stored or transmitted. HIPAA requires standardization for the health care information systems for data exchange and requires security standards for storing data. Thus, it is important that any EMRs must meet HIPAA security standards while being stored or transmitted between providers. Today the EMRs in use provide strong security features to be in compliance with the HIPAA requirements. [6] Epic, which is a leading EMR in the U.S. has stated in a testimony to Congress that “Our software offerings include features for access logging during both clinical and non-clinical workflows and an integrated module for capturing and reporting on disclosures.” [7] In addition, they state on their website that “The security of your information and data while using our Applications is very important to us. Our Applications employ a variety of technical safeguards to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of your personal information including supporting Transport Layer Security (TLS)/Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate technology and encryption.” [8] Computerizing the process of entering, storing and retrieving the patient health information has provided many benefits besides counteracting the disadvantages of paper records that were mentioned earlier. [9] Some of the advantages are as follows:

  • Consistent data entry – Each provider can enter data in a consistent format in an EMR.
  • Consistent and Easy-to-use Man-Machine Interface – Each provider sees the same GUI in order to enter or retrieve information from the EMR.
  • Can utilize Laptop or tablets to access EMR – allows the provider to be mobile and not be tied to a desktop in a fixed place.
  • Can automate collection and storage of data from diagnostic and monitoring equipment and test results from outside labs.
  • Some EMRs may also utilize artificial Intelligence techniques to suggest a possible diagnosis.

How EMRs Improve Healthcare? In the bottom line, we want to see how the use of EMRs allows a medical practitioner to provide better healthcare to the patient.

The key technology for improving the availability of complete and accurate patient information is the EMR that allows storage of comprehensive information on the patient from a variety of providers including clinics(s), hospital(s), laboratory, pharmacy. Other technologies for handling patient information operate in conjunction with the EMR.

Since EMRs allow faster, easier, and more accurate entry and collection of information about the patient, the data can be added to the EMR during the interaction between the provider and the patient. Physical examination results including symptoms are now entered by physicians at or near the point of care, particularly with the aid of laptop computers or tablets. Consistent GUI with on-screen forms and drop-down menus allow complete data collection and reduce keying errors. Automatic date- and time-stamping of entries facilitates documentation and tracking of patient care and outcomes over time. Sometimes patient data can be captured directly from diagnostic and monitoring equipment, bypassing human data entry altogether. X-Ray, MRI and CATscan images, full-motion videos, and sound recordings can be digitized, stored, and transmitted electronically, often with high resolution. Patient background information and risk factors can be entered into computers by patients themselves, again with the aid of structured data entry and advanced human computer interface technologies. Basic demographic traits can be obtained from other computer databases (e.g., insurance eligibility files) through computer networks, again bypassing human data entry. Using EMRs with better search capabilities, providers can retrieve previously collected information about the patient— even at the point of care using laptops and tablets. The access is governed by HIPAA regulations and access is closely tracked by the EMRs and can be audited. Test results and associated reports including images and videos are easier to locate and review. Having quick access to the information about the patient from any location is crucial to providing better healthcare to the patient.

We have provided an overview of how computer-based Electronic Medical Records are a major contribution of IT in healthcare as they can overcome the many disadvantages of paper-based patient records. EMRs can be used to enter, store, transmit and retrieve patient information in compliance with HIPAA laws. Access to complete and accurate patient health information in EMRs facilitates better healthcare for the patient.


Telemedicine[edit]

Telemedicine is the use of telecommunication systems and software to provide medical services without an on-site appointment. Telemedicine platforms are frequently used for follow-up visits, appointments for chronic diseases, prescription management, consultations to specialists and many other medical services suitable to be delivered online through encrypted communications. The approach has been through a striking evolution in the last decade and it is becoming an increasingly important part of the American healthcare infrastructure.

The concept started in the 1950’s when a few hospitals and universities started researching on various ways of sharing medical data or images through telephone connections. In one of the first stages, two medical practices in Pennsylvania succeeded in transmitting radiological snapshots over the phone[10].

In the beginning, telemedicine was mostly utilized to serve as a communication channel between doctors and patients to specialists in a remote location. This was greatly beneficial to rural populations where specialists are not available. Throughout the following decades, the hardware and software needed for these remote visits was expensive and inefficient, so the presence of telemedicine, while increasing, was still limited. The internet era brought deep changes for the development of telemedicine. The wide spread of smart phones and tablets, equipped with high-quality video hardware and microphones, made the possibility of providing remote healthcare to patients in their own homes, workplaces or any other facilities as an economically viable alternative to on-site visits, both for specialty and primary healthcare.

Benefits for patients[edit]

  • Minimized commuting expenses: A consultation only requires a computer device and internet connection, therefore it can be held virtually anywhere, avoiding commutes to the doctor's office and the time that such traveling entangles.
  • Work hours are not interrupted: The way Telemedicine operates, you can enjoy a consultation at the confort of your own home, not having to spend time during morning hours which are typically used for work purposes. Also, due to the fact that your doctor can be in any time zone, your consultation can most likely be held at any time during the day.
  • Improved privacy: Document's that are electronically held withstand a higher level of security standards that paper copies. In such a way, a document with test results can only be opened by the doctor or the patient and all activity is logged, whereas a paper document could be lost or anyone with access can pull up private documents.
  • Less riskier appointments: A great amount of infection risks are produced by recurrent visits to the hospital. Most of these visits could be avoided by a telemedicine system.

Benefits for providers[edit]

  • Less cancellations or rescheduled visits: Visits to the doctor's office can be done virtually anywhere which reduces the likelihood of patients missing an appointment or cancelling an existing one.
  • Larger income: As more patients are taken care of the revenue of a doctor increases. Since telemedicine allows for an increase number of patients in a more efficient way, the revenue of the doctor increases proportionally.
  • More efficient offices: Online patients don't need office resources like a waiting room, secretary or even paper records. Therefore, the efficiency at the office is increased by the use of IT systems.
  • Greater patient insight: All the data of the patient would be in one platform, allowing for its inspection and analysis.
  • Easier payment procedures: It would be easier to keep track of health insurance details as no matter which doctor and which hospital the appointment was with, the patient's data would be verified prior to getting the appointment by the telemedicine platform.

Future: Da Vinci Robot[edit]

The da Vinci Robot is used for surgical procedures and controlled by a surgeon operating from a controlling unit. It is designed to make complex surgeries easier while keeping a minimally invasive approach. This device allows the surgeon to overcome the drawbacks of open and laparoscopic surgery, enhancing the surgeon's skills in terms of vision, precision and control[11]. It is crucial to note that the da Vinci robot is not autonomous, it requires the intervention and decision-making of a professional who acts as a human operator on all actions.

The da Vinci robot optimizes the range of motion of the human hand, counteracting the tremor and easing all movements of the surgeon. In this way, the chances of error related to other surgical systems are minimized. For instance, in a laparoscopy intervention, the surgeon must operate standing up and with a 2D vision of the area in which he in intervening. In contrast, the da Vinci robot provides a 3D view of the anatomy in question. Moreover, in laparoscopy, the surgeon is dependent on an assistant to correctly control the 2D camera, while in the da Vinci robot, the doctor manages the camera directly. Another aspect to consider is that the medical instruments used in laparoscopy normally provide limited movements while the robot can operate just as a human wrist would, allowing highly accurate movements in extremely small and risky spaces[12].

One of the future uses of da Vinci surgical robot relies on the presence of a telecommunication platform to extend its use to remote surgery. The applications of such systems would be endless, operating on soldiers across the globe, astronauts deep in space or just surgeries that require an specialist on the other side of the globe[13].

New Professionals in Healthcare Informatics[edit]

In the healthcare industry because of technology advancing at a rapid pace, the healthcare industry is able to utilize technology in their own way. This means since healthcare can be done online and many other medical documents, this requires specialized positions to be made. Many positions have made and now require a certain group of people to manage the IT aspect in the healthcare industry. There are certifications in health informatics that will prove to a company that someone is certified in the industry. The certifications can focus on one of many areas like Data Analysis and Utilization, Data Reporting, Management of Health Information Systems and Processes, Health Informatics Training, and more[14]. Positions like health information technology specialists, Chief Medical Information Officer, Medical Records and Health Information Technician, and much more. Based on the healthcare company, they can break down what medical or health information needs to be processed and carefully managed.

The health information technology (health IT) specialists position handles the technical side of a patient’s health information. They will build, instruct, or manage electronic health records (EHR)[15]. A Chief Medical Information Officer or CMIO, are IT professionals with a good background in healthcare. They manage, evaluate, and improve the organization's record-keeping system. A big part of their job is making sure their EHR are updated to the current systems. The Medical Records and Health Information Technician organize and manage health data such as EHR systems. Other positions like Nurse Informaticist and Health Informatics Director are more positions being made in the health IT industry[16].

In health IT the best way to show somebody that they have the type of skills to be a professional in health IT is by getting certified. This is called the Certified Health Informatics Systems Professional or CHISP for short. This combines healthcare and technical industry knowledge that is necessary for health IT specialists to know. This can range from software development to understanding the clinical setting.

There are other certifications like the RN-BC, CPHIMS, CAHIMS and RHIA. These can lead to different job positions within the health IT industry. RN-BC award those who are registered nurses and have a good understanding of informatics. The CPHIMS is for the management side of health IT which stands for Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems. This examination requires more requirements and is divided into nine parts. The CAHIMS is for those who haven’t received much experience but are interested in informatics and are also pursuing a degree in health IT. CAHIMS stands for Certified Associate in Health Information and Management. The last certification is the RHIA and this focuses more on diagnostic classification and procedural of the medical process along with legal issues like storage, collection, and retrieval of protected health information. This is high standard in the management side and RHIA stands for Registered Health Information Administrator.

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  2. CCHIT. (2016, April 20). Benefits of Healthcare Information Technology. Retrieved April 20, 2018, from https://www.cchit.org/benefits-of-healthcare-information-technology/
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  7. Epic Corporation. Testimony to HIT Policy Committee – Privacy and Security Tiger Team. 2013.
  8. Epic Corporation Website: https://www.epic.com/about/privacypolicies, 2018
  9. Englebardt, S. P., & Nelson, R. Health care informatics: An interdisciplinary approach. St. Louis: Mosby. 2002.
  10. Otha W. Linton, MSJ, A Century of Radiology at the University of Pennsylvania, The Department of Radiology, University of Pennsylvania, 1999.
  11. "da Vinci Products FAQ". Intuitive Surgical. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  12. "Robots as surgical enablers". MarketWatch. 3 February 2005. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  13. Marescaux, Jacques; Leroy, Joel; Gagner, Michel; Rubino, Francesco; Mutter, Didier; Vix, Michel; Butner, Steven E.; Smith, Michelle K. (27 September 2001). "Transatlantic robot-assisted telesurgery". Nature. 413 (6854): 379–380. doi:10.1038/35096636 – via www.nature.com.
  14. AHIMA Website: http://www.ahima.org/certification/CPHI, 2018
  15. University of Wisconsin Health Information Management & Technology Website: https://himt.wisconsin.edu/about-himt/what-health-it-professionals-do/, 2018
  16. USF Health Website: https://www.usfhealthonline.com/resources/career/health-information-technology-jobs-and-salary-usf-health/, 2018