By Christina Orlovsky, contributor
Jan. 15, 2010 - As we begin a new decade, the health care industry has secured its place as one of the country's top issues for the coming year and beyond. Consumer-driven care and quality reporting are becoming widespread; organizations continue to push for a nationwide electronic health record; the need for increased health information technology (IT) persists; and health care reform is imminent.
While the nation braces for change amid uncertainty, the stimulus money that has been dedicated to health technology points to a number of trends on the horizon.
Here's a look into five of the biggest trends in health care technology:
1. Small Wonders
"During 2010, health care applications and medical devices are going from big and stationary to small and mobile," says Patricia B. Wise, RN, MS, MA, vice president of health care information systems for the Health Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS), who also emphasizes the increased importance of consumer engagement and patient coordination with health care decision making.
2. The Era of the Robot
As more and more patients seek out minimally-invasive surgical procedures because of reduced risks and easier recovery, hospitals across the country are also realizing the importance of robotic-assisted surgical devices, such as the da Vinci system. Utilized most frequently for prostate and gynecologic procedures, robotic devices are among the ECRI Institute's list of the top seven technology trends to watch in 2010.
In its Health Plan Watch List, the Plymouth Meeting, a Pennsylvania-based patient safety research nonprofit, predicts that less expensive, specialty-specific robotics, such as laparo-endoscopic single-site surgery and orthopedic robotic surgery will enter the market and create new demand for precise, minimally-invasive surgical procedures.
3. Nursing Involvement
"One of the top trends for 2010 will be the involvement of nursing professionals in system analysis, design, selection, implementation and optimization of information technology," says Joyce Sensmeier, MS, RN-BC, HIMSS vice president of informatics.
According to the 2009 HIMSS Impact of the Informatics Nurse Survey, the benefit of these nursing professionals to health IT is that they have an impact on patient safety, workflow and user/clinician acceptance within their organizations.
4. Health at Home
With a growing senior population that will be requiring care this decade and in the decades to come, access to medical providers is expected to be an increasing priority. Experts predict that much of this access will become home-based, thanks to the growing trend of telemedicine and online physician office visits.
Virtual doctor's visits are already in use in the nation's 50th state, which became the first in the United States to implement Online Care, a virtual visit platform developed by American Well. The Hawaii Medical Service Association allows patients virtual access to its 150 participating physicians through e-mail visits and video chats.
Acceptance and implementation of this type of online patient-physician communication is spreading: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota recently adopted the Online Care Anywhere program for its 10,000 employees and their families, becoming the first health plan in the continental United States to employ such technology.
5. A Financial Focus on the Health IT Workforce
Acknowledging that advancements in technology are useless if there's not enough staff to implement them, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology (ONC) recently announced more than $110 million in funding for programs to train the health IT professionals of the future.
Led by David Blumenthal, M.D., national coordinator for health IT, the ONC will institute four new programs authorized by the HITECH Act, which "seeks to improve patient care and make it patient-centric through the creation of a secure, interoperable nationwide health information network."
In a message announcing two new education programs and two new workforce training grants, Blumenthal stated, "Modernizing our health care system requires the mobilization of an educated and talented workforce. By supporting such training we will accelerate the meaningful use of health IT and create tens of thousands of secure jobs when and where they are desperately needed."
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