It is a fascinating experience to go to your doctor’s office and request a copy of your medical records. You will stand there, perhaps for quite a long time, as someone is tasked with making paper copies of every record in your file – a file that can be several inches thick if you are old enough. Moreover, there will be this gnawing thought in the back of your mind that your workplace got rid of all of the paper years ago. Why hasn’t the doctor’s office caught up yet?
Health jobs, and the healthcare industry as a whole, is catching up to technology. It is just painfully slow in the medical field. The healthcare industry has had certain ways of doing things for decades, and they are not as eager to embrace the present and future because of the monumental amount of work required to get up to speed. Indeed, this was the impetus behind the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009.
EMR Just the Start
Electronic medical records (EMR) mandated by HITECH are the face of technology adoption in the healthcare industry of 2015. However, EMRs are just the start. The whole idea behind HITECH is to make healthcare more portable and accessible by creating a nationwide network through which healthcare facilities can access patient records from anywhere. A doctor treating a patient on vacation in Nevada would have access to records created by a primary care physician in Connecticut under the HITECH mandates, for example.
Right now, the biggest hurdle to EMRs seems to be one of getting all the systems to connect with one another. Doctor’s offices and healthcare facilities are paying top dollar for EMR systems while data entry clerks are working feverishly every day to get decades of paper documents converted to their digital equivalent. Yet all of the data is underutilized because the various systems are still not capable of reliable and useful communications.
What is the result? A ton of healthcare jobs aimed squarely at an IT sector expected to be the savior of EMR. Where software developers for private industry were in excruciatingly high demand during the 80s and 90s, today healthcare IT enjoys the technology spotlight.
Making It All Work
If the U.S. healthcare industry needs some motivation to get modern digital systems functioning as quickly as possible, they need look no further than Australia. A group of companies working on providing eye screening for patients in Queensland and remote portions of Western Australia has come up with a system that has made a real difference.
Their system uses a combination of advanced retina cameras, broadband internet access, and a comprehensive database to help patients. Local technicians are trained to take retinal photos, which are automatically uploaded to the network database. Images can be examined by experts located elsewhere, their diagnosis data then being sent digitally to local doctors who can follow-up with patients by providing appropriate care. The system has vastly improved early detection and treatment of eye disease regionally.
The U.S. system is struggling to adapt to electronic record-keeping technology even as we are producing some the finest medical equipment in the business. However, we must not lose sight of the goal of HITECH, or we risk giving up before we see all of its benefits. We need to continue pushing forward by filling health jobs in the IT sector, giving clinicians all the support they need to make the transition, and erasing some of the proprietary boundaries causing system incompatibilities. Only then will we succeed.