The use of the Internet in healthcare services will benefit patients and healthcare providers alike--as soon as security concerns are addressed.
Posted Jul 5, 2007
The rising use of online applications in healthcare is resulting in a growing number of patients turning to the Internet for their healthcare services, according to a report by Frost & Sullivan. These "power patients" are distinguishing themselves from traditional patients, says Konstantinos Nikolopoulos, an industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan--and are forcing changes throughout the industry: "Power patients are a growing share of the population and healthcare organizations will need to meet their needs," he writes in the report. Nevertheless, security concerns remain a hindrance to progress.
Over the years, healthcare organizations have adapted to numerous changes, from advances in diagnostic and therapeutic procedures to the emergence of concepts such as managed care and telemedicine. In the report, "The Role of the Internet in Healthcare," Nikolopoulos writes that the "e-health" model represents another such change with far-reaching implications. The Internet will empower patients and support information exchange; this, in turn, will result in new operational strategies, businesses, and service delivery models for healthcare providers, such as offering policy quotes, finding relevant doctors, and speeding up the referral process. "Free choice of doctors, control over treatments received, access to quality of information about their care, and extremely high levels of customer service are some of the expectations of power patients," Nikolopoulos says in the report.
Public-health policies and regulations will influence the way in which healthcare organizations can use the Internet and will determine which services they can offer. Nikolopoulos cites HIPAA regulations and related laws as examples: Uncertainty over privacy and security regulations regarding the use of electronic health information can deter organizations from sharing health records or administrative and financial information across the Internet. "The transition to electronic healthcare and the use of the Internet to exchange health information raises serious security concerns," Nikolopoulos says in the report. These concerns, he adds, are being addressed: "While the perception of the lack of security is inhibiting the use of the Internet for sharing clinical information, various technologies and procedures are being developed to deal with these security problems."
And yet, while innovation will tackle many of these issues, Nikolopoulos is quick to note that, in matters concerning security, privacy, and confidentiality, "ensuring 100 percent absolute security and confidentiality is impossible." Instead, he says, healthcare providers must maintain a good balance between actual or realistic needs, costs, and potential losses (including the impact on reputation). "Until there is widespread consensus on such issues, security concerns will continue to inhibit the use of the Internet in healthcare."
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