box2-bgTraditionally lagging other industries, health care facilities such as hospitals are finally starting to catch up in computer use. For decades, computers were relegated to back-office administrative functions in hospitals, or as peripheral PCs to high-end imaging and radiology systems. Along came pressure from government regulations such as patient privacy and insurance portability (HIPAA) and Medicare/Medicaid information systems, along with advances in technology like medical billing systems and telemedicine. The biggest and more recent catalyst from the government and the health care industry is wider use of Electronic Medical Records (EMR) – digital versions of patients’ charts, and Electronic Health Records (EHR) – sharing of patients’ health records between medical facilities. Although customized health care software remains expensive, licensing flexibility and cloud-based approaches have made it affordable, and the cost of PCs has decreased significantly. As a result, hospitals of all sizes, from rural areas to large metropolitan centers, have gradually increased their computer use. They have done this to reduce costs, to be compliant with government regulations, and provide better care to their patients overall.

Hospitals today are bringing computers closer to the health care professionals and closer to the patients in order to increase efficiency, but also increase accuracy. Computers are often wall-mounted or deployed at all nurses’ stations within a hospital in order to ensure that patients’ charts are more easily accessible and updated more accurately. Computers may also be mounted on medical carts with secure medication dispensing systems that ensure that patients receive the right medications at the right time, every time – reducing the chance of error and increasing patient safety. These same computers mounted on carts can be used to interact with the patients at their bedside, displaying lab and radiological results, and engaging patients in private real-time discussions with their doctors regarding their diagnosis and treatment.

Other areas within the hospital are increasing their computer use as well. Laboratory facilities and radiological departments use PCs to conduct tests, but also enter results into patients’ medical records. Doctors may collaborate with other specialists and colleagues outside the hospital using telemedicine – a computer-based communication and data sharing system. Administrative departments, medical billing departments and the reception desk or information center all use PCs to keep the hospital running. Going forward, every department within a hospital facility will be using computers, with software that ties everything into one system within the hospital and external to the hospital: collaborators, insurance providers, laboratories, testing facilities, and patients themselves.

What are some unique uses of computers that you’ve seen in hospitals?