COMMENT: Harnessing electronic health informatics with smart finance

Chris Wilkinson, Head of Sales for Healthcare for Siemens Financial Services in the UK, examines how electronic health informatics are affecting the sector.

Handheld technologies allow healthcare professionals to access patient records and other information on the move

The digital age means that information is now being retrieved, collated, stored and used in new and different ways. Healthcare professionals at all levels have access to an ever-growing database of information regarding patient care, history, communications and much more.1 With a 65 million patient-base, the UKís National Health Service (NHS) is rich in information.1

Health informatics is generally defined as 'the knowledge, skills and tools that enable information to be collected, managed, used and shared to support the delivery of healthcare and to promote health and wellbeing.'2 With the use of health informatics, healthcare providers can use data they already hold to improve care.

Electronic health informatics involves software systems such as Electronic Health Records (EHR), Health Information Exchange (HIE) standards and new-generation portable medical devices that collect data. EHR quite simply make health records more accessible. By digitalising the system, records are standardised across care facilities, meaning information is readily available to a clinician and waiting times and error margins are reduced. EHR is particularly popular in the UK, which is showing the biggest take up in Europe.3 The NHS plans to render all patientsí records compatible and digital by 2018.3

Portable devices also make use of informatics. These handheld technologies allow healthcare professionals to access patient records and other information on the move. This interconnectivity has the potential to speed up the diagnostic process and improve treatment.

There are many benefits to using health informatics. The data retrieved affects all aspects of the healthcare chain. Keeping pace with technological advancements, however, requires considerable capital expenditure. Moreover, medical software and record keeping programs are constantly being upgraded, continuing to improve the level and use of data that can be accessed.

In this context, it is essential for hospital CFOs to seek new and sustainable ways of making the investment in the technology. Asset finance solutions such as leasing are gaining popularity as a cost-effective investment-enabler. Such financing solutions spread the cost of the technology over an agreed financing period, with finance payments arranged to align with the expected benefit of the use of the technology, such as improved operational efficiency. This removes the need for a large initial outlay, and can help improve cash flow and working capital.

Asset finance allows public healthcare institutions access to the latest technologies, while assisting with long-term financial planning. Additionally, financing arrangements have the potential to incorporate other costs, such as installation and maintenance, as well as introduce the possibility of technology upgrade in line with technology developments.

Tailored, all-encompassing financing packages tend to be offered by specialist healthcare financiers who have an in-depth understanding of the technology and its applications. They are therefore more capable of creating customised financing packages that fit the specific requirements of a healthcare establishment. For instance, specialist financiers are able to flex the financing period to suit the organisationís cash flow. This contrasts with the standard financing terms usually available from generalist financiers.

Electronic health informatics are vital to the progress of the healthcare sector. The benefits of instant access to relevant information are undeniable in an industry based around the care and treatment of human beings. As cuts and austerity measures continue to affect the NHS, it is essential for healthcare CFOs to consider innovative ways to meet the pressures. Investing in technologies that achieve cost savings through improved patient care and throughput could be one solution to this ongoing challenge.

References

1. The Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research http://www.farrinstitute.org/research-education/research

2. Making Information Count: A Human Resources Strategy for Health Informatics Professionals, Department of Health October 2002

3. Karl Flinders, UK shows biggest take-up of electronic health records in Europe, ComputerWeekly.com (27 February 2014)

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