The average person doesn’t always think of software when they think of the healthcare industry. But implementing these solutions in hospitals and practices has revolutionized patient care the world over. There are several categories of medical software, also known as healthcare information technology, health information technology or, simply, HIT.
We’re not going to lie, all of this can get confusing sometimes. With similar names and similar capabilities, it’s not always easy to distinguish one category from the other. That’s why we put together a primer on the various categories of healthcare information technology.
What is Health Information Technology?
Before we get too far into each category, let’s define what health information technology actually is. In the broadest sense, health information technology is simply the application of information technology to healthcare. HIT is another way to describe the comprehensive management of information among consumers, clinicians, government, quality entities and insurers. The use of HIT improves the quality and effectiveness of healthcare; promotes individual and public health; increases the accuracy of diagnoses; prevents medical errors; reduces costs and paperwork; and improves the efficiency of both administrative and clinical processes.
The 3 Main Categories of Healthcare Information Technology
There are three main categories of healthcare information technology that you’ll find in both hospitals and physician offices:
Practice management is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: it helps you manage the different aspects of your practice. This category centralizes your practice’s various systems so you can run it more efficiently. Practice management software automates just about every task that fits under the “health information management” umbrella. They take away the stress and give you back the time spent on time-consuming tasks. The overall goal is to help you provide better short- and long-term care. To achieve this goal, most practices integrate other systems to truly centralize the platform (more on that later).
Electronic medical records software, or EMR, is one of the most popular medical software categories. EMRs replaced paper records by making digital versions of charts and patient histories. They have similar features to business intelligence, in that they can track data over time. This alerts you when patients are due for preventive procedures and screenings. In addition, EMRs help diagnose and treat patients by looking at their history and comparing their health data. All these features allow you to provide consistently better long-term care.
Electronic health records software, or EHR, is another extremely popular category. As you may have guessed by the name, they have similar functionality to EMRs. An EHR provides health information management in the form of digital health records. The differences from EMR begin, however, by providing a broader view. EHRs include a patient’s history, diagnoses, treatments, medications, allergies, X-rays, test results and more.
Another advantage is the ability to share information. While EMRs give a healthcare provider a great overview of a patient, they can only do so for that provider. EHRs, on the other hand, can share patient data with other EHRs. This allows a healthcare provider other than the patient’s primary provider to access the same information. So when a patient moves or goes to an emergency room, they can still be properly treated.
The 4 Smaller Categories of Healthcare Information Technology
There are also smaller categories of healthcare information technology that aren’t as common. These systems are often integrated with practice management software to provide robust functionality and better patient care.
Today’s consumer expects more transparency and accessibility than ever before. This is certainly true for the healthcare industry, where patients want access to their medical records. You certainly can’t blame them, so patient portals were developed. They’ve increased in popularity among hospitals and medical practices in recent years, and appear to become an industry standard. Patient portals allow access to just about everything in an EMR and EHR, including their history, treatments, medications, etc.
Scheduling software oftentimes goes hand-in-hand with a patient portal. This allows patients to login to the portal, view their previous treatments, receive an alert that it’s time for a check up and then schedule it. Possibly the biggest advantage of scheduling software is reducing your phone traffic. Rather than having to call every time they want to make an appointment, patients can just go online and do it. Plus, in today’s digital age, they prefer to do it on their device of choice anyway.
One of the more time-consuming tasks for practices is managing patient billing. Writing up, sending and processing payments takes a lot of time, especially for busy hospitals and practices. That’s where medical billing software steps in. A medical billing system automates all of this, so you don’t have to think about billing at all. If there’s an issue such as a late payment, the system alerts you so you can act accordingly.
One of the last parts of an appointment is sending the patient’s prescription to their pharmacy. In order to expedite the process, physician offices began using ePrescribing software. In just a few clicks, a prescription is sent, filled and waiting for the patient when they get there. This saves not only your time, but your patients’ as well. Additionally, ePrescribing systems ensure that there’s never a prescription mix up due to, say, poor handwriting (no offense doctors).
The system displays the prescription to the pharmacy so they can ensure patient safety by giving the patient the right one. A study by Decision Resources found that using ePrescribing software has increased the prescribing of generic drugs. This furthers your mission of patient care by providing them with cost-effective medicine.
Implementing Health Information Technology
Although HIT offers many potential benefits, many individuals and institutions have been slow to adopt the technology and use it to its best effect. In some cases the issues are financial, as even with monetary incentives from the federal government, implementing HIT is very expensive. In others, the problems are technical, such as interfacing different proprietary systems that contain laboratory or medication data into a particular HIT patient care system.
Interoperability between systems can be a major challenge as well; systems designed for a hospital don’t necessarily work well in outpatient care and vice versa. A laboratory pathologist has different information needs than the cardiologist caring for a hospitalized patient. Another problem is the need to train all users, assure that people use the system correctly and to retrain the staff as new software becomes available.
To choose software and hardware systems and to use HIT effectively, an organization must be diligent in researching both current and proposed requirements. But despite the initial difficulty in selection and implementation, the resulting efficiency and ROI boost is too great to ignore.
Ready to Start Using Healthcare Information Technology?
Although there are lots of different medical software categories, hopefully this list has helped clear up any questions you had. If you haven’t used any of these systems yet, you might want to start looking into some options. Just think of how much better you can run your hospital or practice after implementing some — and especially if you implement all — of these systems.