New medical technologies, beyond advancing the accuracy of diagnoses and the effectiveness of treatments, are reshaping the economics of healthcare and the lives of both patients and healthcare professionals. Here, the author examines how the healthcare industry is embracing and enhancing high technology and the opportunities it generates.
New medical technologies, beyond advancing the accuracy of
diagnoses and theeffectiveness of treatments, are reshaping the
economics of healthcare and thelives of both patients and
healthcare professionals at every level.
Each year, nearly $1 trillion is spent on healthcare delivery in
the UnitedStates; approximately five to six percent of this sum is
spent on technologyincluding biotechnology, information systems,
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI),computer tomography (CT),
radiology, ultrasound, and radiation therapy.
As for the future, technology expenditures in the healthcare field
are expectedto grow at the rate of five to eight percent every
year. In the area ofinformation technology (IT) specifically, the
growth is expected to be 15 to 20percent annually. Although 50
percent of the nation's hospitals already havesome level of IT
incorporated into their infrastructure, forecasts predict
thatnearly all healthcare providers based in the U.S. will be
operatingenterprise-wide, fully-integrated IT systems within the
next 25 years.
Clinical decision support systems that enable disease management
and healthmanagement in practice would also play a key role in the
endeavor for fullyintegrated systems. Implementation of information
technology would be muchfaster in certain areas of healthcare
delivery. For instance, by the year 2005most healthcare providers
will have some level of automation in radiology,using picture
archiving and communications systems (PACS) and
radiologyinformation systems (RIS). In fact, penetration of similar
information systemsin the laboratory and the pharmacy is already at
a significant level today.
There are many reasons for this heavy integration of IT into the
healthcareinfrastructure. Managed care and consolidation are
increasingly pressuringproviders to curtail spiraling costs while
simultaneously enhancing the qualityof care. As a result, many
organizations are working closely with suppliers tohelp identify
the latest and best technologies for cost-effectively treatingand
diagnosing patients, as well as expediting outcomes.
A factor creating even greater stress on the nation's healthcare
system,furthering the need for advanced technologies to help
alleviate the burden, isthe country's changing demographics.
According to the Administration on Aging,there were nearly 34
million individuals aged 65 or older living in the UnitedStates in
1996. Forecasts predict that this number will reach 50 million by
theyear 2020 as the average American life span increases and baby
boomers reachsenior citizen status.1
The ever-expanding elderly population has diverse needs and
requires manyservices-not only for prolonging life, but also for
increasing the quality ofthat life. Consequently, career
opportunities are plentiful in the healthcarefield and, according
to the Department of Labor, are expected to rise by 31percent
within the next six years. More than 3,100,000 new openings
areanticipated in many areas, including home healthcare, nutrition,
diagnostics,treatment and administration.
The entire healthcare environment must rapidly evolve to meet these
needs. Inaddition to reshaping the quality and economics associated
with patient care,the continual introduction of new technologies at
every phase is creating aplethora of new healthcare-related
positions and services (such asInternet-based access to personal
medical data) that are affecting the lives ofeveryone already in
the field, as well as the career choices of those planningto enter
the industry in the near future.
Increasing the quality of patient care
The healthcare industry's ongoing commitment to clinical
excellence hasgiven rise to an array of information technologies
that are providingorganizations with access to the right
information when and where it is neededmost. As a result,
diagnoses, treatments, and outcomes have been improved andexpedited
by the implementation of IT systems. For instance, PACS
technologyprovides an instantaneous link to computerized patient
records (CPRs)containing diagnostic images, video, patient
histories, and written and audioversions of physician transcripts.
The ability to immediately access suchinformation has often been
the key to timely diagnosis and the rapid initiationof treatment.
Connected via a central server, PACS allows seamless access to
archived patientfiles via workstations that can be positioned
anywhere within a facility,including operating rooms, physician and
administrative offices, consultingareas, or even classrooms.
Outlying facilities, such as other hospitals andclinics, can be
networked to the system to speed consultation times and
thetransmittal of pertinent patient information, especially in
times of crisis.
Furthermore, decision support tools have been developed that are
not onlysupplying physicians with greater access to patient
information, but are alsoimproving their ability to make the proper
diagnoses and prescribe the latesttreatments. Such technologies are
designed to think with physicians and, ineffect, expand their
knowledge of a field that is evolving daily with theintroduction of
new study information, procedures, and technologies. Among
thebenefits are clinical decisions that are rapid, cost-effective,
and ultimatelyenhance a patient's quality of care.
Enhancing revenues and reducing costs
The healthcare industry's commitment to clinical excellence,
coupled withthe ever-growing demands of managed care to reduce
costs, is making itincreasingly difficult for hospitals and
physicians to survive, let alonethrive. Consequently, healthcare
providers have responded by implementing newtechnologies, as well
as integrating services with neighboring institutions andproviders
to increase referrals, reduce the duplication of services,
establishcenters of excellence, and provide a given population with
long-term care for aspecific fee. In fact, many new hospitals and
teaching hospitals in the UnitedStates belong to integrated
delivery networks (IDNs) consisting of two or morehospitals.
The implementation of new information technologies have helped many
of theseorganizations increase revenue and reduce costs in several
ways. For instance,technologies like PACS can expand the reach of
hospitals or clinics via anetwork linking individual workstations
located in separate departments, oreven at other facilities. This
allows physicians, surgeons, and otherspecialists to review shared
CPR files, consult on best care decisions, andultimately reduce
costs by expediting diagnoses, treatments, and outcomes.
New careers in healthcare
Healthcare career opportunities are booming. According to the
Bureau ofLabor Statistics, six of the 10 fastest growing employment
segments in theUnited States are healthcare-related. In fact, there
are more than nine millionindividuals currently working in
healthcare in the U.S., and this number isexpected to rise to
nearly 12.6 million by 2006. 2
Obviously, there are numerous reasons for this growth. As new
technologiesbegin to supplant existing technologies, especially in
the area of IT, newhealthcare positions will become available for
individuals with high-tech andcomputer-related skills.
Consequently, more than 1.3 million new jobs areexpected to open
for computer and data processing personnel by 2006, and manyof
these positions are expected to be in healthcare.
Opportunities for programmers, system analysts, and computer
support servicesare expected to increase by 100 percent over the
next seven years. Many ofthese positions will be
healthcare-related, due to the industry's growingreliance on IT.
The United States' changing demographics is another catalyst for
healthcare jobgrowth. As the existing population ages, healthcare
deliverers will be forcedto implement a greater range of
technologies that can rapidly andcost-effectively meet their
diverse medical needs. As a result, many newpositions, such as
nursing-oriented home care or assisted living centers, areexpected
to arise in areas ranging from health and fitness to imaging
New technologies are not only emerging to meet healthcare's
expanding andchanging clinical needs, they are actually generating
the business. At everylevel, new technologies, especially those
involved with processing andtransmitting medical information, are
being implemented to create greateroperating efficiencies, enhance
the quality of care, increase revenues, andreduce costs. Healthcare
has become the nation's leading growth industry as aresult, and is
expected to remain among the leaders for at least the next sixto
seven years. AR