Information technology (IT) is rapidly changing the face of modern medicine. Its proponents have long touted the potential benefits of IT in terms of the quality and efficiency of healthcare. Yet along with these advances in IT come various new challenges. The scope of this field is vast, rapidly developing, and well beyond comprehensive discussion in this brief overview. Nevertheless, it is an area that could fundamentally change the practice of medicine and the relationship between doctors and patients.
IT in healthcare extends well beyond its most obvious manifestation, the internet. It consists of an enormously diverse set of technologies for transmitting and managing health information for use by doctors, other healthcare providers, patients, payers, researchers and various other stakeholders with an interest in healthcare. Today, the internet is the dominant medium for obtaining all types of information. Patients are increasingly consulting the internet about their health needs, both before and after consulting with their doctor. They are also able to participate in virtual online communities that offer support and advice. This is changing the nature of the doctor-patient relationship. An historically paternalistic approach has evolved into a partnership as patients are increasingly informed about their condition (though not always correctly). The internet has also changed the way doctors access information and communicate with their peers. Just two decades ago, a doctor wanting to answer a clinical query would have to make his way to the library, search through the gargantuan volumes of Index Medicus, locate the relevant journal article and then make a photocopy. Today, an online search via Pub Med or a range of other search engines and databases can produce an answer within seconds. Nearly all medical journals can be accessed online. The digital revolution has other obvious benefits for the medical profession. Rural or isolated family practitioners...
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