Healthcare systems in many countries are straining to cope with rising patient numbers and their medical and pharmaceutical needs. This presents growing problems across the board, from staffing to medicine, equipment supplies and the level of healthcare individual hospitals and clinics provide — these are essential to maintaining world-class services as well as preventing the devastating effects of medical malpractice on patients and healthcare centres.
Then, of course, there's the whole issue of budget and finance, especially when hospitals and clinics are part of a state-run structure. Probably nowhere is this more acute than in the National Health Service of Britain, set up in 1948 to provide free healthcare to everyone in the country. With some 1.4 million staff at its many hospitals and clinics in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, it has become the largest public-sector employer in Britain. As it celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, the NHS is experiencing a staffing and funding crisis like never before, struggling with enormous patient levels while somehow attempting to maintain its world-renowned services.
Improved healthcare around the world leads to generally improved lives as people are healthier and live for longer. This places additional demands on healthcare systems, with more elderly people than ever requiring treatment. We're certainly not all healthy, however. Despite advances in medical care, obesity, smoking-related diseases and other lifestyle-centered ailments are taking enormous tolls on healthcare systems around the world. Hospitals and clinics that are still running analogue, instead of digital, operations are especially burdened and fighting to keep up.
A Digital Injection
Take Britain's NHS as an example and it's clear that largely ditching analogue systems in patient healthcare and going digital — patient and other records stored on a computer instead of being handwritten and kept in a filing cabinet, for instance — is not enough if the IT infrastructure is not up to the job. A survey earlier this year revealed that the majority of NHS workers — six out of 10 — believed the health service’s digital network was crumbling and putting patients' lives at risk.
“The IT systems compromise patient safety without a doubt … ” an NHS doctor said. “[NHS IT] is the most frustrating aspect of my job by far. It is not fit for purpose and a facet of the job my colleagues and I grapple with on a daily basis.” The manager of one NHS hospital offered “I work in NHS IT. A lack of investment leaves us walking a tightrope above a pit of major systems failure.”
This lack of an efficient digital network in NHS hospitals — and in many others around the world — means critical staff such as doctors and nurses spend large amounts of time battling IT systems to try and get things done. Instead of devoting most of their time to patient care, they're trying to log on to computers (a simple task, but one that can take up to 10 minutes at NHS hospitals and clinics, the survey revealed) to access the internet, place orders and print labels. What should be a support system has instead become a cross around medics’ already strained necks.
Keeping Up with IT
Everyone who works with technology knows just how rapidly it changes as it evolves; what seems state-of-the-art today can quickly become yesterday's IT setup and leave organisations floundering as they try to deal with more work and procedures using a system that is no longer efficient and suitable. That's why the healthcare industry is racing to implement new technologies that will allow it to better cope with the rising tide of patients and their many requirements.
For the private healthcare sector, ditching outdated analogue methods and going entirely digital, while also introducing new hardware and software as needs arise, can have the knock-on effect of lowering prices and making services more affordable. More patients getting improved medical services means more business and an enhanced reputation as a quality healthcare provider.
Doctors, nurses, surgeons, managers and the many other crucial personnel at medical facilities now have access to real-time data that they can instantly use to deliver world-class services, no matter how many patients and conditions require treatment.