Healthcare and Social Media: Impact, Issues and Governance


The radical global growth in information and communications technology has given rise to the number of internet users who account for 37% of the world’s total population according to ‘Internet World Statistics’.

With this growth, burgeoning use of social media has also increased which includes collaborative projects such as Wikipedia, blogs and content communities such as Twitter and YouTube, and social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

The world has seen the influence of social media on global political and community initiatives which has lead to its widespread recognition and use.

Social media has also influenced the healthcare industry and has widespread implications for its stakeholders. The World Health Organization has pages on social networking websites which share information regarding disease patterns and potential epidemics to its global followers.

Impact

Like other industries, social media has had an astounding impact on healthcare. Consumers can now express concerns or share information with healthcare professionals or other consumers through social networking websites. Through social networks, blogs, forums and communities, healthcare providers and consumers can communicate their issues and get immediate responses. According to research, 30% of adults in the U.S have been found to have received help through information found on the internet.

Indeed, social media has spread like wildfire and its outreach has influenced even the busiest individuals such as healthcare professionals. Providers and nurses have the opportunity to stay up-to-date with recent developments in the healthcare industry. Care providers professionals can now interact with others in the industry and share ideas and experiences.

Use of Social Media in healthcare has updated the way patients and care providers can connect. Ramona Nelson, co-author of a book explaining the impact of social media on healthcare states, “Patients are becoming our colleagues. It’s changing relationships and the kinds of questions and services a patient asks for.”

Issues

Increased use of social media has provided a new platform where the healthcare community can interact and interconnect, but it has brought with it several risks as well.

Healthcare providers are worried about the credibility of content being shared and used on social media . Since information is shared at such a rapid pace, moderation of healthcare related content is very important so that inaccurate information such as rumors about spreading diseases are dispelled as quickly as possible.

When people are sharing healthcare information on unmonitored social media websites, there is high risk of someone sharing private and confidential company information. This can be done deliberately or by mistake, nevertheless causing significant damage to providers, patients and the company. Such issues usually involve employees sharing confidential information about patients or the employer on social networks like Facebook or Twitter in the form of posts, comments or multimedia.

Other issues consist of disgruntled healthcare employees or patients trying to manipulate, bully and negatively criticize their employers or patients. Such occurrences not only pose risks to the individuals involved in unethical behavior which might lead to divorce with their employers, but also a threat to healthcare organizations who may find their reputation tarnished in the industry.

Governance

It must not be forgotten that healthcare professionals are responsible for the confidentiality of patient health information and company privacy laws, which is why the industry leaders in collaboration with regulatory bodies should develop, educate and implement stringent policies regarding healthcare information so that the risks posed by free and open information sharing platforms are minimized. The Royal College of General Practitioners in the United Kingdom recently developed the ‘Social Media Highway Code’ for its GPs to ensure that they meet their professional obligations and protect patient health information.

It is clear to see the vast benefits that the healthcare industry can utilize through responsible usage of social media. The most important thing now is for regulations such as HIPAA and HITECH to include and implement stringent rules governing the use of social media in order to protect all parties involved.

 

 

mHealth: The Way Forward


The rate of development in the mobile technology industry is unparalleled and it is now making headway in the field of health IT. The recent influx of medical professionals adopting the latest sophisticated tools to enhance care delivery and engage patients has meant that consumers now expect technology to simplify everything.

Healthcare providers are not the only ones looking to accept these technological advances, as their patients are demanding mobile applications to monitor their own health. Mobile health or commonly known as mHealth refers to the practice of medicine, public health surveillance and patient engagement through mobile devices such as tablets, phones etc. This can provide a means for care givers and patients to access clinical records from anywhere, patients able to request prescription refills or appointments and most importantly the ability for patients to monitor their health constantly and from anywhere in the world.

In a recent hearing launched by the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Jonathan Spalter, chairman of Mobile Future, an organization that represents innovators across the wireless community said, “Nowhere is that promise of future innovation and opportunity greater than mobile health. Our message today is that the innovation and vision exist now in both the medical and technology communities working together collaboratively. This progress will proceed, in many respects, as rapidly as government allows.”

The mobile health market is expected to reach around $26 billion by 2017. According to a recent report, there are close to 100,000 mobile health applications and more in development by well known health IT vendors. Not only are there a number of mobile phone applications for patients but there are many in the making for healthcare professionals.

The Manhattan Research Survey estimates that in 2012 there were approximately 75 million users of Mobile Health or mHealth, who not only searched for health related issues on their mobile phones through popular search engines, but also actively used mobile phone applications to monitor and improve their health. In the same report, it was stated that almost half of the older population (55 plus) were using mobile devices to search for health related issues.

Electronic Medical Records or EMRs were originally built to be run on devices which were platform specific. This has changed with the rapid development and commercial use of technological innovations. Web-based EMRs have now allowed doctors to be truly mobile and can run on any platform or device; whether it be a computer a standard office computer, a laptop, tablet or a Smartphone. Although the demand for mobile-health solutions is increasing, some in the healthcare community remain skeptical about the implementation of such solutions.

David Levy, MD, global healthcare leader, PwC says, “Despite demand and the obvious potential benefits of mHealth, rapid adoption is not yet occurring. The main barriers are not the technology but rather systemic to healthcare and inherent resistance to change. Though many people think mobile health will be ancillary or bolted on to the healthcare industry, we look at it differently: mHealth is the future of healthcare, deeply integrated into delivery that will be better, faster, less expensive and far more customer-focused.”

There are always obstacles for any potential technology to fully integrate with and possibly overtake current technological systems, but there is no denying that mHealth is the way forward for the healthcare industry. A recent study undertaken by PwC shows that a majority of consumers predict that in the next three years, mHealth will vastly improve the quality, cost and convenience of the entire care delivery process.

 

Medical Device Interoperability


Medical devices are of paramount importance to patient care and well being such as the equipment used for clinical measurement, for instance x-ray imaging, temperature, blood pressure and critical life support. Although we depend heavily on modern medical equipment to treat patients, the devices used in practice are usually not interoperable and cannot connect with other devices. This inadvertently causes accidents which may easily be prevented through an interoperable network of devices.

In a traditional intensive care unit, patients are given treatment with the help of numerous devices such as ventilators, electrocardiographs and vital sign monitors. Most of the time, the manufacturers are different for each of these devices, which makes it harder for these devices to be integrated accordingly.

According to a report by the World Health Organization, there are approximately 1.5 million various medical devices in more than 10,000 different types of device groups available globally. These devices are instrumental for effective prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of diseases, and can be used in different settings such as clinics, hospitals and homes by patients, individuals and healthcare workers. They can also be integrated to a cloud Electronic Medical Records network which can make it easier for healthcare providers to record and monitor the performance of these devices.

Peter Pronovost, MD, Medical Director for the Center for Innovation in Quality Patient Care at John Hopkins University sheds some light on the reasons we need interconnected medical devices. “Medical devices need to share data, so that they can better inform clinicians and help patients,” said Mr. Pronovost. “By doing so, we can both improve quality and reduce costs.”

Similarly, a report by Deloitte states that 61% consumers are interested in using a medical device for checking their condition and electronically share that information with their healthcare providers through the use of technologies such as the EMR or Patient Portal.

medical devices

Through the use of medical devices integrated with Electronic Medical Records, precious lives can be saved. For example, surgery procedures require surgical instruments and radiotherapy units are required to treat cancer patients. In the example of a cancer patient, an infusion pump giving pain medication to the patient can share and exchange data with the vital signs monitor to ensure that the patient is not being given a higher dose.

Joseph M. Smith, MD, Chief Medical and Science Officer of San Diego-based WHI said, “We see an enormous opportunity to use information technology and device innovation to bring about the much needed transformation in healthcare delivery.” He further added, “Today’s hospitals are filled with medical devices that are unable to share critical data, creating potential dangers to patients, as well as inefficiencies that put a tremendous financial burden on our healthcare system.”

 

SaaS & Healthcare – Where is the link?


We have seen the influx of information technology revolutionize almost every industry over the last few years, with one innovation after another expediting the exchange of information among organizations and individuals. The same holds true for the healthcare industry, where the term health IT has dominated discussion between physicians, hospitals and government funded institutions. The rate of innovation in health IT has been incredible, especially with the advent of Cloud-based Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and Health Information Exchanges (HIE). These new solutions have helped providers escape the barriers of traditional server based technology and be connected with their patients from virtually anywhere in the world.

Today, mobile technology is paving the way for the future of affordable and accessible care delivery. Physicians have always looked for ways to respond to the needs of their patients quickly even from outside of their offices. SaaS EMR(s) and online Patient Portals have made this possible, as physicians are able to access the medical records of their patients directly from their cell phones, tablets and laptops. However, many physicians across the nation remain unaware of the functionality and benefits of SaaS EMR(s) or why it has become so popular.

The influence of SaaS upon the healthcare continuum is evident once we take a closer look at solutions such as EMR, practice management, patient portals. SaaS allows for a pay as you go service, where the data captured at the provider’s practice is stored on virtual servers outside of the physician’s office. This means that via SaaS, providers no longer need to maintain hardware equipment or perform data backup.Subscription fees are usually paid on a monthly basis, while customer support is usually available round the clock.

As with other innovations in technology, drawbacks and concerns always emerge after implementation. In this case, the primary risk of implementing SaaS in healthcare is the potential threat to safety and integrity of sensitive patient information.The long term preservation and confidentiality of this datais the responsibility of the respective SaaS EMR vendor. Most SaaS vendors today assure their clients of the safety of their information by complying with strict HIPAA guidelines. There are additional guidelines outlined in the Meaningful Use program by the CMS, thanks to which SaaS in healthcare will experience a 20% growth by 2017.

Providers must ensure their due diligence when choosing a SaaS health IT solution. The vendor must assure the provider of their compliance with HIPAA and other information security standards such as ISO 27000 etc. Providers should ideally request their vendor for copies of recent audit reportsalong with the any information security certifications before making their final decision. In light of the aforementioned characteristics of SaaS and health IT, it is easy to construe that providers looking to go paperless at this stage must give preference to Cloud technology over traditional server based technology. This will ensure the long term viability of their health IT investment.

 

The Road to Meaningful Use – Certified EMR


With the enduring efforts of promoting interoperability by the federal government and health IT vendors alike, we have observed a surge in the adoption of certified EMR across the nation. For some providers, the prime reason for adoption is avoiding penalties, while others view it as a professional responsibility. Regardless of their motives, it would be reasonable to deduce that the utilization of certified EMR technology in practices has raised the bar for the quality of patient care and staff productivity as well. All providers looking to comply with the Meaningful Use objectives must employ a certified EMR. The definition of certified EMR changes with the corresponding stage of Meaningful Use. As of now, we are in Meaningful Use stage one while stage two should begin in 2014.

Stage 2 of Meaningful Use requires the use of patient portals in order for providers to qualify for the apportioned incentives. The fundamental reason for the government’s focus on the use of patient portals is for the improvement in health management for patients. Once the patient feels involved, the level of satisfaction he/she experiences increases as well. As a result, there is better coordination between patients and physicians ensuing in a lot of time and hassle being saved for both.

According to a recent report published by KLAS, more than 50 percent of all clinics and hospitals varying in specialties nationwide have implemented patient portals in their practices. Moreover, this statistic is improving by the day. The current figure strongly indicates the sensitivity of physicians towards their patients’ needs along with a willingness to comply with the Meaningful Use guidelines. The final precept of stage 2 in regards to patient portals mandates that a minimum of five percent of a provider’s patients have to be active on their portal in order for the provider to qualify for their share of incentives.

Given the aforementioned benefits and the overall response of the physician community across the U.S. towards the use of certified EMR and patient portals, we can conclude that the implementation of this technology substantially improves practice efficiency and patient health management. The results may require time to become evident; slowly but surely, we are witnessing the benefits which are inherent to the use and utilization of health IT.

 

EMR and Practice Management – Automation Realized


Consumer and business marketing has substantially developed in regards to the holistic value delivered by a product or service. Rationale is the underlying basis to adjudicate the purchase decision on any item under question. ‘Is it functional towards my needs?’, ‘How does it measure up to its competitors in the market in regards to quality?’, ‘Is it good value for money?’. These are the most common questions while determining a final choice. It would be fair to say that before finalizing any single prospect, a cost-benefit analysis is of the utmost importance.  The same holds true for physicians while implementing applications within their practice such as EMR and practice management.  Since software such as EMR and practice management are long term investments, it is all the more important to have an in depth analysis before coming to a final decision. Furthermore, EMR and practice management may have serious implications on the quality of care delivered within a practice; therefore it is mandatory for providers to be completely thorough before implementing any application.

“After you part with your hard earned money on adopting a certain EMR or practice management system and  you eventually discover that the costs outweigh the benefits, you will end up becoming aggravated. Hence, comprehensive research is fundamental prior to deciding upon any particular product or service you decide to apply within your practice”, says a Massachusetts based physician.

The core benefit of applying tools like EMR and practice management is that they have automated arduous processes which previously had to be carried out manually. In a modern doctor’s office, clinical processes are expedited and made easy through EMR, while administrative processes are automated through a practice management system. After the advent of electronic medical records, tasks which required long hours can now be wrapped up in a few minutes. Storing and retrieving documents is now done electronically within a few minutes. Furthermore, thanks to this technology the healthcare industry has ventured into the electronic sphere, where chances for any silly mistakes made are highly minimized.

Just a decade ago, no one would have envisioned that such applications would completely revolutionize the entire healthcare system – health information being transferred without barriers of location or boundaries of paper. In the world of today we see it happening; due to the incursion of health IT applications, healthcare as we know it has been transformed.

 

Patient Portal – The Vendors Need it too


While providers and patients are considered to be the major beneficiaries of the health IT applications such as Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and patient portal, today, even the product vendors are reaping extravagant profits through them. Although the existence of more than 700 vendors in the market has made the industry quite competitive, not every vendors enjoys the same position as the established vendors do. This case is quite evident when it comes to patient portals, especially.

Many health IT consultants think that EMRs were sufficient to help vendors sustain the existing market share, the ever increasing pressure of competition requires new developments. Although patient engagement and secure patient-physician interaction the major reason behind introducing patient portals, vendors also believe that this could help them attract more clients and make a mark in the market. Interestingly, only a few established vendors are making patient portals and various other applications. This is what gives them an edge over a lot of competitors.

“To keep themselves in the market, vendors should always keep on experimenting with their product and also come up with new ideas that would help them sustain the competition. With such an intense competition, vendors should not risk their position by merely relying on their conventional products”, says a North Dakota based health IT consultant.

One cannot even disagree that patient portals have come a long way from merely being a platform facilitate communication. Established vendors have incorporated various features that allow patients to not only interact with their physicians whenever needed but also perform several administrative tasks without having to visit the physician in person. This means reduced costs associated with making redundant telephonic calls and spending money on fares.

Considering that time is of essence, the finest patient portals allow patients to schedule their appointments online and keep a follow up by making a few clicks. Patients are at complete liberty to access their health records online and even download them if needed. Imagine the ease of staying connected within the care continuum through a simple internet connection. Where patients and physicians are making the most of patient portals, the increasing rate of implementation is definitely helping vendors make profits too.