Data and Medical Records

Technology series on Healthcare

I am writing this article as a response to feedback I have received from various medical practitioners regarding ICT in healthcare. The result being technology can be used to solve various problems faced by healthcare institutions. However, there is not much interaction with medical practitioners and IT professional, hence the actual problems are not being solved. The overall objective of healthcare institutions is the health and wellbeing of patients. This series therefore aims to match the needs of healthcare practitioners with new and upcoming technologies that can play a part in solving these challenges.

A. DATA AND MEDICAL RECORDS

Collection, processing, sharing and use of data. Take for example collection of medical records. Despite advances in technology, this is still a largely manual process in most institutions. Large number of files are ferried around from department to department, hospital to hospital in their physical form. Entry of patient information, lab results, radio results, these are all manually done in most hospitals. Some of the risks posed are loss of files, theft, inaccuracy of records, time wastage, etc. Efficiency in data therefore forms a critical objective for each healthcare institution in order to achieve its objective. Another challenge here is in terms of sharing medical records. Various institutions and departments’ systems do not talk to each other. This means that if a patient needs to move from one hospital to another, it becomes very hard for them to access their file for it to be shared with the new hospital. There is no national healthcare record system.

However technology can play a key role here, through development of a national Electronic Health Records System, we can have both private and public healthcare institutions share patient records. This would however need to have the buy in of the government, through legislature and institutions harmonizing implementation and standardization of records and systems. There is lack of adequate data to enhance patient and facilitator engagement. Data analytics would go a long way in helping patients and facilities collect, analyze and understand their own health data. This emphasis will enhance patient engagement. This coupled with Artificial Intelligence (AI) will greatly assist in solving a myriad of ills affecting this industry. With comprehensive data collection, AI can also be used to aid clinical judgment or diagnosis. For example, an AI algorithm in Standford University was trained to detect skin cancers against dermatologists and it performed at the level humans did. AI can also be used to perform repetitive tasks, thus freeing up practitioners to undertake more meaningful tasks. For example, analyzing tests, X-rays, CT scans, data entry, and other mundane tasks.

Population health services. Population is a determinant in provision of healthcare. Governments and healthcare practitioners are more and more engaged in policy decisions based on population health. Big data on population trends can be utilized to assist governments and various bodies to make decisions and hence inform policy and strategy. According to the recently released 2018 World Population Data Sheet from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), by mid-century, the share of the population aged 65 or older will reach seven per cent up from three per cent currently. This, while children’s (ages 0 to 14) share will have fallen, from 41 per cent today, to 29 per cent in 2050. This means the government needs to start focusing more on gathering data on the ageing population.

Data collection can be enhanced by various methods such as use of wearables and sensor data. This is through enabling users to send relevant health data to their physicians and/or health facilities. Such data will also assist in better control of effects of health on population, both short and long term hence inform strategy to focus on relevant target groups, eg. Ageing population.

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As much as we are moving to a paperless society, the reality is that Kenyan hospitals still utilize huge amounts of paper work. Frequent loss and theft of documents is rampant in hospitals. This is simply due to inefficient document tracking procedures. Technology can be used to track files moving from one position to another. The same way rfid tags are used to track people and assets, this can be used to track movement of files within hospitals. The same systems used to assign books in libraries can be used to assign files for hospitals. This means that the documents will be tracked from department to department with ease.

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