Though we may think of the healthcare industry as an intensely interpersonal one, the plain truth is that computers and information technology are absolutely essential to modern hospitals. Hospital administrators must manage the schedules of hundreds (perhaps thousands, if the hospital is in a large urban area) of full-time hospital staff, including doctors, nurses, clerical staff, drivers, and custodial staff. Shifts are long to minimize the number of times returning employees must be given new treatment information for current patients. Hospital network software helps to accommodate for all of the variables in this process, including current medications and treatment methods.
As an entity fully licensed to dispense prescription medicine, hospitals also typically have pharmacists on staff to assist patients. Hospital staff can attest to the wide variety of medications required by patients, particularly during end-of-life care. Some of these medications interact in unique, harmful ways that can complicate treatment, prolong recovery, and in some cases, severely compromise patient safety. Hospital staff members (including pharmacists) consult hospital network software in order to verify dosage and distribution protocol for their patients’ medications, as well as to learn of any possible harm that may come from potential drug interactions. As such, the network software serves to reduce physician error and improve patient outcomes by spotting harmful drug interactions before they have a chance to harm patients.
Recent healthcare reform legislation has also had an impact on available federal revenue for hospital computing and information technology. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 (also known as Obamacare or the ACA) generated massive political controversy by mandating that all small business owners with more than 50 full-time employees must provide health insurance to their full-time staff. To opt out of such coverage, employers must pay a substantial financial penalty per full-time employee left uninsured. In order to help employers who are considering health insurance coverage plans, the Affordable Care Act also established the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), an online marketplace designed to let employers directly compare local available health insurance coverage plans.
The creation of the online healthcare marketplace at healthcare.gov is where computing, hospitals, and the Affordable Care Act intersect. The patient marketplace serves to educate previously uninsured citizens on the procedure for obtaining public health insurance. What we’re seeing now is perhaps the beginning of a new way to teach the public about their own health, as well as a way to compensate hospitals fairly for the services they provide.