By Kumar Venkatesiah
Billions of dollars are invested each year in healthcare research. The American National Institutes of Health (NIH) alone invests over $37 billion dollars each year in funding various programs to improve healthcare in the country.
Not surprisingly then, improvements in healthcare have been happening at an astonishing rate. Take the treatment of AIDS for example. In the 1980s, the typical antiretroviral therapy cost upwards of $10,000 per patient per year. Today, it costs a patient less than $100 a year to undergo HIV treatment.
While generic drug manufacturers have played a huge part in this, the drop in costs is also attributed to investments in research that helped with the discovery of protease inhibitors as well as in the implementation of combined treatment options that made treatment affordable. In less than two decades, an acutely fatal disease has been transformed into a completely manageable condition.
But two decades is still a long time in healthcare. Some industry experts argue that the amount of health information doubles every three years. By 2020, this is expected to happen every 73 days. Healthcare organizations are staring at a spurt in healthcare improvements at a scale they may not yet be prepared for.
Patients look up to physicians and expect them to be in the know of all the latest diagnostic procedures and notes from the research community. Yet, the frequency of updates may make it impossible to stay abreast of all them all. The onus is on the industry to establish the infrastructure that can enable constant dissemination of all the latest medical updates.
CDSS, or Clinical Decision Support System, is one of the most effective technological interventions to counter the challenges relating to information overload in the healthcare industry. CDSS is essentially a technological system that medical professionals use for diagnosis and at point of care. With CDSS, it is possible to aggregate millions or even billions of data points from the EHR to diagnose a patient’s health condition. CDSS can also help with effective treatment procedures. A technological system as this could be programmed to automatically red flag treatment regimen where medications are incompatible or ineffective for the specific patient.
The biggest advantage with CDSS is that it can be automated and centralized. This makes it possible to collate patient data from hospitals across the world to build a better system. Artificial intelligence tools can also correlate and recommend preventive treatment plans for patients who are potential candidates for major ailments in future.
The trouble with the system however is that it is extremely reliant on the inputted parameters. Like any technology system, CDSS works on the principle of GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out). So without the right input parameters, CDSS is prone to mis-diagnosis and incomplete prescriptions. For example, if the patient has a health condition that is exacerbated by cold weather or pollution levels, a CDSS that does not account for the prevailing weather patterns or particulate matter in the patient’s city may fail to provide a holistic treatment plan.
Listservs have traditionally been used to disseminate news about the latest medical updates to professionals in the industry. Listservs are essentially digital newsletters that send out periodic updates to subscribers. The challenge with Listservs is that there is no way to make sure that the subscriber has read a broadcast. More importantly, there is no way to assess their learning like it is possible in a classroom environment.
In the past decade however, there has been a significant shift in the learning patterns of physicians. Fewer doctors today spend time in classrooms to update themselves on the latest medical updates. In addition to imparting outdated treatment methods, such physicians may also be in violation of health laws. Between 2008-2011 there were at least 806 cases where NHS staff failed to abide by the Information Guidance guidelines. Ineffective training is believed to be a big reason for this. Since then, the UK has reported over 650,000 elearners for their Information Guidance guideline courses.
There are a few reasons why eLearning has taken the place of classrooms. Firstly, doctors no longer require to spend an entire day in classes for their lessons. With eLearning, the education can happen during any time of the day the doctor is free. Secondly, eLearning courses are also more effective since the lessons may be imparted through videos and other rich media content sources. It may be infeasible to gather all doctors at the same time to demo procedures in a classroom. Finally, eLearning makes it possible for continual learning. Given the fast pace of update in the healthcare industry, eLearning provides a way for medical professionals to keep themselves abreast of the latest without spending significant number of working hours in the classroom.
With the ubiquity of smartphones, clinical photography has emerged as a viable option for clinical decision making procedures. In the healthcare industry, such clinical photographs are also a great platform to disseminate and share information among professionals. Healthcare professionals working on rare or uncommon health conditions may make use of clinical photography to disseminate their learnings with fellow members of the community.
Clinical photography has however been a controversial topic given the private and confidential nature of the patient data. It is thus extremely critical for the healthcare community to abide by patient confidentiality laws while uploading and downloading clinical photograph documents.
The reason clinical photography is so effective is because it provides healthcare professionals with a vicarious approach to treatment procedures. They are thus a much more effective form of information dissemination compared to case-studies and journals from health care professionals.
Infrastructure For The Future
While rapid advances in healthcare have been a boon for patients, disseminating the information about the latest advances is a growing challenge. While tools such as CDSS and eLearning have served their purpose till now, the challenge is only going to grow in future. The need of the hour is for the healthcare IT community to devise ways to improve the effectiveness of information dissemination and making sure that patients are not deprived of the latest advances in medicine.
About The Author
Kumar Venkatesiah is an eLearning consultant from India with more than nine years of experience. He works with telemedicine startups to help onboard new clients to the digital platform. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.