Is Information Technology becoming an integral part of healthcare treatment?

In the past, healthcare was often exclusively thought about from the perspective of treatment while information technology was seen as merely providing administrative support. However, based on the guiding principle to leverage the latest technologies to benefit the healthcare environment, information technology is becoming an integral part of the treatment process itself.

20140307091150_MG_8375Mr. Martin Burger, Senior Industry Advisor Healthcare, SAP APJ sees three main areas of application for information technology in the health sector: preventive care (act before a patients condition deteriorates), analysis (real-time measurements to optimize treatment) and efficiency (address the cost dimension).

The application of data analytics in the treatment process highlights the potential for information technology. By making data from various sources (e.g. lifestyle data, EMRs and other measurements) available to doctors, information technology enables them to come closer to personalized medicine. Merging various data sources also makes it possible to identify areas, in which information might be missing that could contribute to a successful treatment process. Initial applications of these principles by hospitals (e.g. NCT in Germany or SNUH in South Korea) have yielded promising results by both improving care while simultaneously reducing costs.

Apart from an approach focusing on institutions, the help of information technology might enable consumers to use their access to technical devices (e.g. smartphones) to personally improve their lifestyle and health. The central questions in this area are related to technical implementation. For example, to make data accessible in real-time, new processes and technology have to be developed, such as in-memory technology that avoids data bases by storing data in memory directly. Another question that needs to be addressed is how to make data that is currently stored at different places or even in different organizations instantaneously available. This requires overcoming institutional and technological barriers.

From my personal point of view, the chances of increased IT application in the health care sector are fascinating. Just by combining available data with medical know-how, treatment can be significantly improved. Furthermore, a general consensus from the business perspective seems to be that the private sector needs to become more involved in the healthcare sector. Since companies and healthcare institutions require similar underlying IT structures, dialogues might be facilitated, which would further increase the benefits to the patients. At the same time, while merging data sources or making personal health data more readily available delivers a convincing argument for improving treatment, individual concerns about data protection and privacy also need to be addressed. This holds particularly true if for profits are becoming more involved in the very basic aspects of treatment provision and care. The individual consumer also needs to be part of the equation, not just as a receiver of care, but as a social stakeholder in this sector.  20140307102018_MG_8479

There are parallels between hospitals and companies. Regardless of the differences in objectives (e.g. providing optimal care versus profit-maximization), CEOs and hospital directors alike require data to ensure their organizations remain aligned with their respective strategies. By providing real-time data, information technology supports these organizations.

For business students, increasing implementation of structures similar to other organizations requires knowledge of management or organizational theory. Consequently, while in the past health care and provision of treatment was seen as a domain of health care professionals, it seems likely that the need for skills that business students can provide will increase in the future.

By Stefan Rittner , University of Mannheim, Business School

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