In a few decades since its advent, computers and computer based technologies have demonstrated tremendous potential for aiding the development and progress of humankind. This potential has translated into the computers and computer based technologies pervading nearly every sphere of human activity. Healthcare is an important facet of human activity, which has provided a positive impact on the longevity of human life and the ability to manage and treat the number of diseases and conditions that pose a potential risk to quality and length of human life. Computers and computer based technologies have and continue to boost the capabilities and effectiveness of medicine to the benefit of humankind.
Summary of Three Medical Advances
Three advances in the field of medicine are evaluated to provide clarity to the benefits that have accrued to medical science, as a result of the advent of computers and computer based technology.
The most common and striking influence of computers is in the manner that we now collect, store and retrieve information. The advent of computers and computers based technology has led to the term information technology becoming common parlance and a part of human activity. It is but natural that information technology has pervaded into the important human activity of medical science in what is called health information technology (HIT). HIT aims at a unified system of maintaining medical histories and information to assist physicians in their handling of patients through the use of computers and computer based technologies, which has the potential to revolutionize the healthcare industry.
To understand how computer based information technology advances the benefits of medical science, an evaluation of the computer oriented hospital rules-based system (HRBS), as implemented in the Mayo Clinic is useful. The objective of HRBS is to quickly identify and communicate critical information to the clinician to provide for optimal patient care. In addition it also increases workload efficiency and improves documentation and communication. HRBS is utilized by six departments of Mayo Clinic, namely, the infectious-disease division, pharmacy services, nutrition support services, infection control and the nursing department. These six HRBS subsystems are Web-based programs that have a common structural design and have the capacity of integrating computerized information from several institutional databases. This integrated data is made available in a user-friendly format, to make data retrieval more efficient. Patient specific intervention information and monitoring notes can be entered into this database. There are rules designed into the subsystems that enable detection of treatment or monitoring that are below acceptable standards. There are also provisions within the subsystem for identification of opportunities for cost savings. In addition to all this, drug-related problems can also be identified. Thus by improving communication through the computer based HRBS system, Mayo Clinic, has found it possible to increase the efficiency in patient care in a cost efficient manner, with also the means to identify any drug-related problems.
Proper diagnosis is the key to management and treatment of diseases. Several technological advances, including computer based technologies have come to the aid of physicians in making proper diagnosis. X-ray images were the traditional non-invasive means for physicians to observe the status of the internal structures of the human body. Computed tomography has vastly advanced the imaging technology as a diagnostic tool. Computed tomography colonography is one such advanced diagnostic tool that helps in the detection of colorectal polyps and cancer. In the United States of America colorectal cancer is the second leading cause for deaths occurring due to cancer. Yet, there are many people, who are not comfortable with the rigors of the invasive colonoscopy used to detect colorectal cancer. Computed tomography assists such individuals to avoid invasive colonoscopy in the early detection of colorectal cancer. In computed tomography colonography multi-detector row computed tomography is employed to generate data, which is converted by computer software intro three dimensional images displaying the colon. These clear images assist in the early detection of colorectal cancer to the benefit of many patients.
Handheld computing technology has proved useful in several areas to store and retrieve information. Handheld computers in the form of personal digital assistants (PDA’s) is proving to be a boon in medical education, as aspiring doctors are provided knowledge and skills. PDAs are not just useful to medical students, but also to residents and physicians. These handheld computers provide portable and powerful means to managing medical information and enhancing clinical knowledge. In classrooms PDAs offer the benefit of conducting real-time surveys with the help of wireless technology. At the patient bedside these handheld computers provide the capability of calculating clinical prediction rules, checking for drug interaction, and verifying consulting references for better differential diagnosis, and thereby offering more efficient patient care. The benefits to patient care are further enhanced, when we take into consideration the potential of these handheld computers for documentation through electronic order entry and patient tracking applications.
Computer based technologies are being translated into means for better diagnostic tools, disease prevention, disease management in the field of medicine. This provides the medical field with an ever growing capacity for more better patient comfort and patient safety, all compounding for more efficient patient care that has not been seen in the history of man. However in this pervasiveness of computer based technology into the field of medicine, there continue to remain three areas of concern. These are the increasing cost of healthcare, the safety of the devices being employed and the possibility of transgression on patient rights to confidentiality of their healthcare. This suggests that introduction of computer based technologies into the field of medicine needs to be evaluated on the basis of these three concerns before they become part of the medical field.
Computer based technologies are pervading every area of human activity. This is true for the medical field too. An evaluation of three computer based technologies demonstrates that these technologies are revolutionizing the practice of medicine, increasing patient comfort, patient safety and the efficiency of diagnosis, treatment and management of diseases on the whole. However there are areas of concern, like increased healthcare costs and potential transgression of patient rights in the use of computer based technologies in the medical field, which need to be addressed.
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