The healthcare industry is going through an unprecedented period of change, with a dramatic evolution in the way that patients are diagnosed and treated, against a backdrop of intense financial pressure.
Healthcare providers need to integrate workflows, consolidate patient clinical information and manage to collaborate with other healthcare experts across an enterprise or an entire community to increase efficiency and productivity without compromising quality.
This calls for a new era of 'integrated care'. This is a patient-driven, outcomes-driven, method of delivering healthcare. In effect, it also heralds a golden age for information technology to facilitate and enable this shift.
IT can link together information from across the healthcare delivery system (in-patient, ambulatory, home-based), providing clinicians with a holistic view of the patient on which to base their clinical decisions.
As a result, they may be able to make a diagnosis more quickly and more accurately; drawing on the skills of the very best clinical experts and specialists who may or may not be located in the immediate vicinity.
From facilitator to friend
Historically, it is true that IT departments and clinicians have worked in parallel; that is definitely something that I recall from my days as a radiographer.
But now, to do the best for the patient, a more ‘blended’ approach is needed – with IT and clinicians working in complete collaboration.
The IT department is, in fact, a tremendous asset to the clinician. While, historically, a consultant or radiologist could have a departmental view of the patient relating to an area of specialisation, today the IT department can help by providing a bird’s eye view of the whole patient flow.
This can provide vital intelligence for the clinician, and most certainly inform the hospital’s IT strategy, to ensure that clinicians are able to access and share the right information about the patient at the right time to make a swift and accurate diagnosis.
So although clinicians may once have seen them as simply a provider of computer systems that could encumber rather than enhance processes, the chief information officer and the IT department now need to be seen as the consultant’s best friends.
Out of the IT department
In the radiology field, image archives have traditionally been managed by the radiology department and the cataloguing, control, and indeed cost of managing this archive have all been the responsibility of the radiology department as well.
Historically, this has made tadiology departments reluctant to open their archives to other departments in their hospitals to store their data, even if this data is DICOM.
We see many examples today of radiology and cardiology departments having separate departmental archives, even when they are both creating and managing DICOM images, and there is a close cross over between sharing their data to manage the patient clinically.
Today, technology has moved on archives are now capable of storing more than DICOM-only objects. They can manage and receive inputs from departments other than the radiology department and its radiology information system.
This capability removes the burden of responsibility away from the radiology department in respect of management of the archive and enables them to use a partition of this archive whilst other departments are also able to add their clinical data.
Who is now responsible for managing these archives as multiple departments are able to use them? We are seeing the ownership and management of these centralised data stores gravitating towards the IT department, which is used to providing IT services to a whole trust and community users.
Opening up healthcare
We are seeing a consistent approach to procurements today, with a heavy involvement from the IT department on the technical infrastructure and support of the IT estate, while clinicians are focused on making sure that the appropriate toolsets are available in their departmental systems to facilitate and enhance their day to day work.
Hence, a radiologist can now expect to have access to endoscopy, pathology and photographic images of their patient on the one desktop and embedded into their workflows to facilitate an accurate diagnosis.
Having the ability to access images and diagnostic toolsets from anywhere within the trust also enables closer collaboration and faster decision making processes. All of these benefit patients and improve departmental and hospital wide efficiencies.
In effect, IT is the ‘glue’ that holds things together and, aside from the clinical care received, has the potential to make the biggest difference to patient outcome.
We are currently seeing a new era whereby clinicians are actively embracing the mutual synergies that exist with the IT department. Greater collaboration can only be advantageous and help each party to play its part in delivering better care.
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