Healthcare's Prescription Is IT's Headache

Staying on the cutting edge of healthcare technology is easy. It's supporting the infrastructure that's a challenge.

Patients and caregivers are demanding more cutting-edge healthcare technology than ever before, but the support and administration tasks required for this new care model are challenging some hospitals.

Across the board, patients, doctors, nurses, hospital staff and administrators are in favor of any technology that can reduce costs, improve efficiency and increase quality of care, said Mark Jacobs, director of Technology Services, Operations and Security at WellSpan Health, including mobile and tablet PCs, self-service kiosks for patient check-in, co-payment collection, automated consent signature gathering and EHRs (electronic health records).

"These are technologies that eliminate duplicate information and that work wonders alleviating waste," Jacobs said.

For Rachel Heftler, director of Client Services/Information Systems Group at Memorial Sloan Kettering, her patients have narrowed down their wish list to three common refrains: they want to make appointments, refill their prescriptions and view their test results online, she said.

"Our patients are used to the retail world or the banking world," she said. "They place orders online, they can track their deliveries, contact customer service, they can get updates within moments of a transaction, and they want the same from healthcare."

Heftler adds that as a cancer-only hospital, patients are often required to stay at Memorial Sloan Kettering for long periods of time, and often struggle with isolation from their everyday routine. Heftler said Sloan Kettering has provided Internet connections, loaner laptops and even video conferencing to keep patients in touch with their families, their work and even their school classrooms.

"They really want to maintain a semblance of a normal life with the world outside. They need to feel they are still a part of it," she said.

While mobility and self-service are becoming "must-haves," many patients and caregivers are still wary of the value of EHRs. Heftler said patients want them, but they neither understand the value nor trust that the information contained in the EHR will remain safe and secure.

"What we hear over and over again is who's going to be keeper of the data? How are we going to know the data will always be available? How can I make sure that the access is only authorized to certain people?" she said, adding that it's also a tricky feat for providers to access, modify and save that data safely, securely and while maintaining compliance.