Instead of checking a patient chart at the foot of their child’s bed at Geisinger Janet Weis Children’s Hospital in Danville, Pa., parents use a tablet to access updated information. This bedside patient portal is just one example of health information technology (HIT). Studies show that HIT can help patients and their loved ones feel more in control and engaged during care delivery.
Professionals who pursue an advanced degree in health communication can help empower this new era of patient-provider interaction that has revolutionized health care delivery through technology. Discover what health information technology is, the skills professionals need and how to prepare for this meaningful career path.
Defining Health Information Technology
What is health information technology? It refers to the computer and electronic systems providers and patients use to share and transmit health information. The most prominent application of HIT involves electronic health records (EHRs), which allow patient information to be shared between providers and systems.
Providers can also share information electronically with their patients. Patients have their own health information at their fingertips and, as a result, become more proactive in managing their own health.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) implemented the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act). Its objective is to promote and regulate the use of information technology in health care. According to HHS, health information technology will improve the quality of health care, prevent medical errors, reduce health care costs and increase administrative efficiency.
While not without bumps, the integration of health information technology continues at a rapid pace, even while the technology itself evolves. Beyond EHRs, HIT encompasses personal health records (PHRs), e-prescribing, telemedicine, smartphone apps to track or improve health, bedside tablets and apps in hospitals and a host of other technologies.
Health Information Technology’s Impact on Skill Set
People in health communication play a key part in implementing HIT. The communication professional’s role typically spans two areas: advocate and explainer. It may fall to the communication professional to elicit stakeholder buy-in for technological initiatives.
Health communication professionals combine marketing and public relations skills with wide knowledge of health care issues. They may help shape public opinion and encourage healthy behavior. The ultimate goal of a health communication professional is to help people live healthier lives.
On the technical side, health communication professionals play a role in designing apps consumers use to track health and/or promoting these apps and services. They may also craft the health messaging delivered by an app.
On the whole, health communication professionals must be able to produce clear, understandable messaging targeted to consumers, which may require communicating complex ideas and concepts. Competency in digital marketing is also essential. Digital media, social media and mobile communication technology continue to influence health care and health communication. Health communication professionals should have mastery of the narrative messaging that powers these platforms. In addition to advanced written and verbal communication skills, communication professionals should have strong interpersonal and organizational skills.
The Rider University online Master of Arts in Health Communication program is designed to equip graduates with the skills to excel in health communication roles, including public relations, advertising, marketing and advocacy. Among other competencies, the curriculum teaches students to create and carry out health communication campaigns as well as promote health literacy and education.
The Trends of Health Information Technology
In addition to understanding what health information technology is, the successful health communication professional must be well versed in trends revolutionizing health care delivery. Current topics include:
Interoperability refers to the exchange of health data across different systems and health information technologies. This exchange improves care efficiency and reduces medical errors. Patient care improves when complete and accurate patient information is seamlessly shared across providers. Dangerous prescription interactions, for example, can be mitigated or avoided altogether using this strategy.
The next generation of cellular technology, 5G, will dramatically increase the speed and coverage of wireless networks. Faster and more robust networks will enhance the quality and availability of telemedicine, which has been adopted recently in many rural areas where there are fewer providers. The technology will also allow faster transmission of large medical imaging files, such as MRIs and PET scans, for specialists to review — PET scans can be as large as one gigabyte. Higher transmission speeds mean patients wait less time for treatment, and specialists can see more patients.
Cloud computing refers to the secure, remote storage and analysis of large amounts of data. Google and Microsoft have both launched huge cloud computing partnerships with health care organizations. Google will store and analyze the data of millions of patients. It also plans to use artificial intelligence (AI) to read electronic health records in an effort to predict and identify medical conditions. Outsourcing data management to a cloud services company also allows hospitals to free up their own IT staff for in-house work.
Learn How to Reach Your Professional Goals in Health Communication
As health care grows more complex and technology rapidly evolves, the role of the health communication professional becomes increasingly vital. Organizations, government entities, hospitals and tech companies rely on health communication professionals who have an in-depth understanding of what health information technology is and how it can be used to craft clear and concise messaging that informs and engages the public.
Learn more about how the Rider University online Master of Arts in Health Communication program can help you achieve success in the challenging and exciting field of health communication. You’ll play a role in crafting and spreading important health messaging designed to support the well-being of individuals and communities.