MedUni Vienna: Health sector would benefit from increased use of communications technology

A current study by the Institute of Environmental Hygiene at MedUni Vienna’s Centre for Public Health shows that increased use of information and communications technology (ICT) in the health sector can both improve doctor-patient relations and lower costs. According to the experts consulted for the study – doctors and patient and health system representatives – it would be of benefit to everyone: patients, the health system and – as a result of long-term savings - the public purse. 

Social trends such as an aging population and medical advances – in the field of individualised medicine, for example – are leading to huge cost increases in public healthcare. Increased use of ICT could combat this trend, improve communication between patients and doctors, boost the field of healthcare and help patients make informed decisions for themselves.

These are the findings of a current study carried out by MedUni Vienna, the results of which have just been published in two respected medical journals the “International Journal of Medical Informatics“ and „International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care“. The work was based on a study which asked experts from the Austrian public health system about possible future scenarios involving „Health and ICT“. Those consulted tended to favour increased use of information and communications technologies in healthcare, although doctors showed a slightly more sceptical attitude.

Potential improvements in many areas
According to the study, there is clear room for improvement in several areas. Better networks and IT infrastructure across healthcare institutions would be in everyone’s interests as this would avoid bureaucracy and unnecessary and cumbersome duplicate treatments for patients. Necessary treatments could begin more quickly and waiting times could be reduced. If there were a better network for health service providers, patients would no longer have to look after, forward or carry their own results themselves, as is currently often the case in practice. Mobile devices or apps would enable an ICT-based approach to preventative healthcare and could help patients to stay healthy in old age.

Potential cost savings versus data protection challenges
The study’s lead author, Daniela Haluza of the Institute of Environmental Hygiene at MedUni Vienna’s Centre for Public Health, points out another huge benefit: „More efficient use of ICT in the health sector saves a lot of money. Networks and organisational structures enable us to share healthcare data between hospitals, doctors and outpatient clinics more cost-effectively, more quickly and more securely.“

The experts consulted are also aware of the risks of greater use of information technology in the health system, though. „Yes, information and communications technology can improve the quality of the health system and raise patient satisfaction levels. But at the same time, there are high start-up costs and new potential problems such as breaches in data security,“ explains co-author David Jungwirth. The research is part of a larger academic project and was carried out by Daniela Haluza in collaboration with David Jungwirth of the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Salzburg.

1. Haluza D, Jungwirth D (2014) ICT and the future of health care: aspects of health promotion. Int J Med Inform. [Epub ahead of print doi: 10.1016].
2. Haluza D, Jungwirth D (2014) ICT and the future of health care: aspects of doctor–patient communication. Int J Technol Assess Health Care 30 (3):298-305.

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