Healthcare IT (HCIT) refers to using computer systems and information technology to improve the quality and efficiency of medical services and patient outcomes.
Healthcare IT ranges from using electronic medical records, digital health, and telehealth to mHealth apps, patient portals, and online payment systems. The most common use cases are related to patient safety (for example, the use of electronic health records), patient outcomes (such as the quality of care and cost), and healthcare efficiency (for example, the ability to coordinate care for multiple patients).
This guide gives an overview of the healthcare IT ecosystem in the United States, explains why healthcare IT is essential and provides examples of how IT-driven healthcare innovation can improve the quality of public health and patient outcomes.
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What Is Healthcare IT (HCIT)?
The term “healthcare IT” (sometimes referred to as “health IT”) is widely adopted across countries to describe the use of computers and information technology in crucial healthcare processes, such as disease prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation.
In addition, it includes some technologies that support care providers and patients in delivering healthcare services, including but not limited to telemedicine, clinical decision support systems, and electronic prescriptions.
Most people outside the healthcare industry are familiar with the term “health IT” and its generic use, for example, in the media or by the World Health Organization. Indeed, the importance of providing good health care to people worldwide is widely recognized. However, healthcare information technology encompasses more than just electronic medical records (EMR), one of the most common use cases to describe the IT systems used in hospitals and clinics.
Healthcare IT is many things at once. This domain covers systems, processes, and tech professionals that connect healthcare stakeholders (patients, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, insurance companies, health regulators, etc.).
Apparently, healthcare IT is a broad concept that includes various technologies, systems, and processes, from EMRs to a hospital’s financial and clinical reporting procedures, mobile apps for medical reference, wearables monitoring health indicators, telemedicine services, and on-body medical sensors.
Why Is Healthcare IT Important?
Healthcare IT is vital for many reasons and in many ways. In recent years, the U.S. government has allocated billions of dollars to support its adoption and use. As a result, IT-driven innovation in the digital health sector enables the delivery of virtual personalized care, creating 410 billion in annual value by 2025, according to McKinsey Health Institute.
At the same time, private companies invested in more than 700 startups and ventures from the HCIT sector in 2022, according to Rock Health, a full-service seed fund headquartered in San Francisco, California.
Here are at least four reasons that make HCIT a key enabler for healthcare delivery:
Substantial Cost Savings
Healthcare IT aims to deliver and maintain a higher service quality and access level by improving the overall patient experience, increasing care efficiency, and lowering healthcare system costs.
For example, The National Center for Biotechnology Information estimates that telehealth, one of the most prominent health IT applications, can save the government as much as $361 per patient (or $8,566 service cost savings annually) compared to traditional in-home care programs (NCBI, 2020).
HealthIT.gov calculated that ERM systems save $400-$500 per monthly patient visit compared to traditional, paper-based documentation. In addition, implementing an ERM facilitates a smoother and faster claim reimbursement process, which saves time and resources.
Healthcare IT has the potential to improve health outcomes by providing patients with personalized care and access to real-time information and support services.
For example, digital health technologies such as on-body medical sensors, video medicine, and mHealth apps can bring doctors, nurses, and patients together to support better care for chronic conditions.
Thanks to personalized (precision) medicine, people are able to:
- Self-assess their diet and exercise programs based on calorie and daily activity data.
- Monitor their health status and diseases.
- Track symptoms and medications.
- Get disease-specific prescription information directly from their doctors.
- Communicate with physicians for faster and more accurate therapies.
Better Management of Public Health
Healthcare IT can help governments manage a nation’s public health by improving population health through disease tracking and prevention.
For example, in 2019, the Centers for Disease Control Disease and Prevention (CDC) launched a public surveillance initiative to gather nationwide data on COVID-19 to facilitate health professionals to be better informed about the pandemic exposure as well as new diseases and health threats in the United States. This initiative has allowed the organization to identify and analyze ongoing COVID-19 challenges and generate actionable insights for strategic prevention measures.
Overall, IT-enabled public health surveillance has helped to identify health-related problems 10x faster than traditional patient care methods and paved the way for new governmental and private programs, such as the PulsePoint alert system.
Integrate Health Information and Resources
The health system has many stakeholders, making it difficult for each party to get into the information loop. Moreover, finding or accessing relevant health data takes work even if this issue is solved.
IT-driven innovation in healthcare can help address these challenges by making medical data available to patients and providers whenever and wherever they need it, with better security and privacy guarantees. The result is better patient health outcomes and more effective decision-making for physicians.
Besides, health IT makes transferring medical data between health providers more consistent and streamlined so that more people will share and send their medical information, thereby increasing the likelihood of better managing and treating health conditions for longer life spans.
EHR at the Forefront of Health IT
Electronic health records (EHRs) are database systems designed to store, organize and exchange medical and health-related information in a digital format. These IT systems have increased healthcare efficiency by allowing providers to share patient data among themselves and their patients’ physicians.
For example, EHR systems have been instrumental in supporting the electronic transfer of medical data from millions of Americans to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leading to the more effective usage of the nation’s time, resources, and healthcare dollars.
eHealth Exchange is one of the industry’s best examples of healthcare database systems able to automatically report on nearly 100 diseases, such as COVID-19, listeriosis, and Lyme disease.
Learn more about the largest, query-based EHR exchange in the country.
eHealth Exchange is an online nationwide network for healthcare providers, consumers, and researchers to share information quickly and securely. It is designed with privacy, transparency, and respect for personal choice as core values.
The network drive transformation of healthcare by connecting patients, federal and non-federal organizations, patients, and researchers and capturing their health information. It helps reduce costs through better care coordination, increases the quality of public care through accessible and valuable data, and offers a variety of tools for medical education and research.