Advances in information technology is enabling peope to collect and store more health information than every before. How can we harness these valuable insights to help people with chronic disease live longer, healthier, happier lives?
With information technology (IT) advancing in leaps and bounds, it’s an exciting time in healthcare. Cutting-edge tools—from large-scale computerized disease registries to individual wearable trackers—are enabling us to collect and store more information about our health than ever before. How can we harness these valuable insights to help people with chronic disease live longer, healthier, happier lives?
The answer is health informatics. Informatics is "the interdisciplinary study of the design, development, adoption, and application of IT-based innovations in healthcare services delivery, management, and planning."
These technologies allow providers to better manage care for patients with serious medical conditions. Through data that’s collected, stored, analyzed, and presented in digital format, healthcare professionals can gain a more complete picture of a patient’s health status, make more accurate diagnoses, and reduce medical risk.
Here are just a few ways health data are and will continue to impact the way we diagnose, treat, and manage chronic conditions.
Chronic disease tracking and research
Some electronic health record (EHR) systems allow providers to create a patient database pertaining to some of the most common (and deadly) chronic diseases—including type 2 diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
These registries can be contained to a single practice, or providers can join an open registry to share and compare data with other facilities. Doctors can track clinical data, measure the quality of patient care against government and insurer standards, and identify areas in need of improvement.
Improved patient monitoring and treatment
Wearable devices can remotely monitor, for example, a patient’s heart rate or blood glucose levels in real time. This information is sent electronically to a provider, who can review the data and respond appropriately.
Another example of wearable technology is the futuristic Freescale KLo2 chip. This device is swallowed by a patient or embedded in a diseased organ, where it delivers biometric readings to the healthcare provider in order to guide clinical decisions.
More patient accountability
With health IT, patients are able to take control of their health in unprecedented ways. Remote monitoring devices and specialized software can help people with chronic conditions keep tabs on their health without having to constantly visit their doctor. What’s more, telehealth technologies (such as 2-way video conferencing) make it easier for patients to interact with their provider when needed—which encourages them to stay on course with treatment and follow-ups.
Enhanced coordination among providers
When various doctors and specialists can efficiently share data about patient test results and drug concerns, this improves clinical problem-solving and decision-making while reducing the risk of mishaps.
According to Sam Hanna, Program Director for HealthInformatics@GW, the health informatics field will only continue to evolve.
“Informatics still has its challenges, because not everybody has fully bought in,” he said. “But we’re going to get there, and I think how we’re going to get there is by disruption. Whether it’s a new mobile device or a new wearable device, it’s just going to give us that ‘aha’ moment. This is the new frontier.”