The evolution of technology is so fast that it’s almost too quick for anyone to keep track of. Whenever a new invention is patented, it’s almost obsolete a day later. Music entertainment systems have gone from record players, to cassette players, to CD players, then to Mini-Disk players, all before evolving into downloadable MP3s. Now, streaming libraries can be accessed anywhere on the globe. The time between these inventions can almost be considered as following Zipf’s Law.
Medical advancements are also evolved through the progress of technology. Many illnesses that were considered to be without a cure can now be vaccinated against. The loss of a limb in years past would have generally resulted in never having anything in its place that would really make a difference, yet prosthetics are now much closer to the limb that they’re replacing.
Physical technology is making a difference.
For almost every preceding generation, the lack of one of our five basic senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste) would have been impossible to rectify. However, technology has made a huge difference here, particularly in hearing and vision.
Children who are born without the ability to hear can now be fitted with a cochlear implant in their early life, allowing them that sense. These devices are small, subtle and, in most cases, can’t be noticed by anyone other than the user. Although they don’t replace hearing completely, it wasn’t too long ago that these devices were fictional, and although not every person with severe hearing loss is eligible, the number of people who have these implants is getting larger every day.
Hearing aids are a great example of a progression in tech.
In fact, most devices that are designed to help people with their hearing have been redesigned over the years, to be both more proficient and less aesthetically obvious. Hearing aids, which are used in the treatment for tinnitus and mild to moderate hearing loss, are a fraction of the size that they used to be. Audiologists at Hearing Health USA will have a range of these devices that sit either in the ear or behind the earlobe, which are less obvious anyway, but they have also begun to roll out “invisible hearing aids.” These are tiny devices that help many users feel much more confident with their hearing and in their personal appearance when using them. Comparing these to the hearing aids of old will show that they’re not only much smaller and better suited to the wearer, but they were also prescribed after a series of advanced hearing tests too.
What about digital technology?
It stands to reason that the healthcare profession in the United States is connected by a central data hub. After all, everyone has a medical record, and if you hail from Long Island, New York, but get sick in Anaheim, California, then it’s pointless having the postal service send documents across the width of the United States. But medical records are also incredibly sensitive documents, so they aren’t going to be readily available online either. There are regulations designed to prevent the transmission of medical records via email.
Medical emergencies are a different matter, as the ends can be justified by the means, but for non-life-threatening issues and long term conditions, the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) has very strict rules about using email. Simply put, although much care will be put into keeping this sensitive and confidential information safe, emails and their servers are not the most secure of vehicles. Whilst the HIPAA will not prevent the use of email to send medical documents from one General Practitioner to another, for example, they strongly advise against it.
How is data being managed?
That being said, the advancement of digital technology is currently a little behind on the times when compared to other countries. If you had to see a different healthcare worker than you usually would, in order to access your medical records, they need specific and written consent from you, the patient, first. Often this permission has to be granted through the use of fax (which is in itself an outdated system), and it requires a conversation between yourself and your original doctor first. This excludes the ability to be subtle if you’re trying to seek a second opinion. The data is centralized, but access to it is difficult. If the U.S.’s system was to be compared to somewhere like the United Kingdom’s NHS net, then this is a far more streamlined and efficient service. Different doctors and pharmacists can access a patient’s records from anywhere, both securely and without the need for written consent.
The problem as it stands is largely due to permission and access, and this is where technology is really playing a part in improving the efficiency of the United States’ healthcare system. Changes are being made to how the data is being handled within the central hub. Beyond the medical records, healthcare agencies require demographics, knowledge of illness hotspots, life expectancies and mortality rates, and, most importantly, which treatments are working and what for. This is an extraordinary amount of data to collate and work through in order to gain insights into how we can improve healthcare for everyone. The way in which it’s being used is currently undergoing a change as well, and as technology evolves, data management agencies are ensuring that SAP data migration best practices are in place ready to evolve the U.S.’s use of digital technology in the future.
In short, medical data is due for an overhaul to be more secure and efficient in its use. Fortunately, that change is on the horizon.