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In an age of digital communications, cloud storage and automated processes, health care looks to be the next industry to experience “disruption” as health IT and telemedicine will revolutionize the way providers render services and keep records, and the way patients receive consultation and treatment. Health care providers will need to familiarize themselves with these two terms as they will become more and more prevalent as more development is made.

What is health IT?

Health information technology or “health IT” is the area of information technology that involves design, development, creation, use and maintenance of information systems to improve the health care industry. This concept is becoming an important discussion as providers look to improve medical care and public health, lower patient/provider cost, improve operational efficiency, and ultimately provide patients with a better experience while optimizing the reimbursement for ambulatory and inpatient health care providers. 

The central component of health IT is the electronic health record (EHR) system. Other components of the infrastructure are personal health records (PHR), the health information exchange and patient portals. Picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) and vendor-neutral archives (VNAs) are two health IT instruments that medical professionals use to store and manage medical images. These instruments are helping integrate radiology into the main hospital workflow and other specialty departments (cardiology, neurology, etc.) have become producers of clinical images. VNAs have been implemented as a way to merge the imaging data from separate departments across a multi-facility health care network. Patient portals, while not a new concept, are being improved and redesigned to enable patients to see lab results, schedule appointments, pay bills and communicate with their physicians. 

While some argue that the implementation of EHRs has led to less face to face interaction with patients and more time entering data, there are notable benefits of embracing health IT including:

  • Use of data analytics to manage population health management programs and reduce the occurrence of expensive chronic health conditions
  • Shared information between academic researchers to develop new therapies and drugs
  • The rights of patients to obtain and use their own health data to collaborate with service providers in their own care

More on telemedicine

Telemedicine and telehealth are often used interchangeably, however they are two different things. Telehealth includes both remote clinical service delivery and nonclinical elements of the health care system (continuing education, provider training and administrative meetings). Telemedicine refers specifically to the exchange of medical information to improve a patient’s health. It pertains to the use of electronic communications to provide clinical services to a patient without requiring them to come into a doctor’s office or hospital.

As telemedicine progresses experts are exploring scenarios including, telemedicine chat bots being the initial point of contact that discusses symptoms during a video call on a smartphone, and based on the bot’s interpretation could provide recommendations or patch the patient through to an actual physician. Beyond that, smart speakers and smart home units could also become part of the equation with a patient simply saying to the speaker “I need to talk to a doctor about my sinus pressure”, the speaker would then search for telemedicine services. 

Telemedicine could also change the way provider facilities are set up, with rooms being designated for telemedicine services with high-res cameras, lights, speakers and monitors to offer premium care remotely. This new technology offers benefits for both parties (patient and provider). Patients do not have to travel or take time off work to get to an appointment, and patients from all over including rural areas and underserved communities will have increased access to care that they might not otherwise have. On the provider side, telemedicine can cut down on cancellations and no-shows. Providers can send patients reminders more easily, and can encourage healthy lifestyle changes for their patients, ultimately cutting costs for both parties.