Emerging Technology For e-Healthcare
The last decade has seen some major developments in healthcare, with the most prominent trend being related e-technologies. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that e-healthcare is a consumer-related healthcare model, which deploys a combination of electronic communication and information technology.
E-healthcare encompasses a range of services or systems, such as electronic health records, telemedicine, health knowledge management, mhealth or mobile health and healthcare information systems. E-healthcare is especially important in countries or areas which are remote and where physical health infrastructure may be sparse. Essentially, e-healthcare enables two places with similar problems to share knowledge and technology; without having to replicate the efforts.
Emerging Technologies & Evolving Existing Ones
E-healthcare has come as a boon to developing regions or crisis-stricken zones. For example, the cloud technology has enabled doctors and patients to access healthcare records from anywhere- a development which makes treatment possible anytime, anywhere. The accepted tenet for sharing information through e-healthcare systems is that explanatory diagnostic information may be exchanged insecurely, and private information (such as personal information) must be secured.
Cloud hence, is definitely among the most important technological developments in the field, and as it continues to evolve, so will it make access to healthcare even easier for millions of people. Another very successful initiative has been the e-diabetes system, which enables data exchange at both the front and the back end.
Another area which has seen and is continues to vibrate with innovations is in the case of mobile health. This means providing tele-assistance to patients and caregivers via mobile. This has proved to be a boon for developing countries which are seeing a mobile phone revolution, but are characterized by poor physical communication. For example, countries like India, which are geographically vast and parts of which are often remote, are now adapting to use of mhealth at an astonishing rate. Mhealth has also come as a blessing for crisis stricken areas, where often caregivers are required to attend to victims and patients without any physical assistance.
The one area which will probably emerge as the most important is of cybermedicine, which is the evolved state of telemedicine. While this technology is only at its infancy, cybermedicine entails the use of the Internet to deliver medical services, such as medical consultations and drug prescriptions. Cybermedicine is already being implemented in small projects across the world, especially in primary healthcare stations. Especially, armed forces around the world are rapidly adapting to cybermedicine.
Another area which is seeing some very interesting work done is that of e-mental healthcare. Mostly, it entails talk therapy, online and telecounselling and intervention through video conferencing. Recently attempts are also being made to provide pharmaceutical aids online, and a growing academic interest in various field related to this area is setting up the stage for better and more effective technology.
Roadblocks & Speed Breakers
According to the Rockefeller Foundation report from an e-Health conference(2008) organized by Health Level 7(HL7) and WHO, one of the key challenges to the use of health information is the lack of interoperable health systems and consensus on data standards. Interoperability means the ability of two systems to share data and use that share data; and is considered a fundamental requirement for delivering cross-organizational and borderless services. Most authorities and systems are confused as to how to achieve this across platforms, especially considering the difference between developed and developing regions. In most cases, there are guidelines available for implementation, however, some countries, like Kenya, have drafted their institutional guidelines.
The next big hurdle is that of data privacy and security. Health information is as sensitive; if not more, as financial information. People suffering from psychological disorders and sexually transmitted diseases are the ones who are most vulnerable to abuse, and insecure data handling can lead to disasters.
There are also concerns over finding common medicinal terms and diagnostic tools. Lack of a common thesaurus has now emerged as one of the most glaring shortcomings in the existing system.
A Better Tomorrow
In emerging economies, e-healthcare is being welcomed by the government. Most such initiatives are in form of public-private partnerships and support from social and charitable institutions. In most developing countries, e-healthcare is still limited to hospital management, telemedicine, medical transcription and dissemination of knowledge and awareness through various portals. Granted, the physical limitations will always be there to overcome, but with hard work and new technology, hopefully, things will get better faster.