People have been using computers for hundreds of years: the abacus used by the ancient Chinese is actually a crude computer. Thus, the concept of using machines to do calculations is an old one. However, when we use the term "computer technology" we are thinking of the innovations of the last 20-30 years, and particularly the development of the microprocessor. It was this that made it possible for people like Bill Gates to develop machines that are small, portable, and affordable. In the 1990s, computer networks came into being, and all of human society was transformed.
Computer technology includes not only the machines but the Internet. We are tied to people all over the world, as well as those in the next office; we can order clothes from shops in distant cities and talk to friends in New Zealand. Businesses have been transformed as well, and computers are found in corporations, factories, doctor's offices, hotels, restaurants, schools, colleges, universities, retail and commercial enterprises; literally every concern in every country uses computers. It is almost impossible to overstate the impact computer technology has had on societies around the world. This paper discusses the impact of computer technology and the Internet on the health services industry.
Computer technology "has been applied in many unrelated service industries such as banking … and health services" (McConnell, 1996). Computers can fill out forms, transfer phone calls and gather data, among many other abilities, all of which are useful in the health care field (McConnell, 1996).
In one study of patients with diabetes, it was shown that care improved when computers were used in an "automated telephone disease management (ATDM) with telephone nurse follow-up" (Piette, 2001). Most diabetes care takes place in an outpatient setting, so follow-up is essential (Piette, 2001). In addition, many diabetes patients have financial problems, and have to "limit their use of outpatient services" (Piette, 2001). Those who are forced to curtail their care for these reasons often experience poorer outcomes than those who manage their disease more aggressively (Piette, 2001).
Telephone care is one way to help diabetics manage their condition, with automated systems helping in the effort. Automated telephone disease management (ATDM) systems "use specialized computer technology to deliver messages and collect information from patients using either their telephones touch-tone keypad or voice-recognition software" (Piette, 2001). According to multiple studies, "chronically ill patients will participate in ATDM and … the information they report during ATDM assessments is at least as reliable as information obtained via structured clinical interviews or medical record reviews" (Piette, 2001). In other words, the information the computer takes over the phone is as accurate as the information the patient would relay to a doctor or nurse in a professional medical setting. But using the computer saves the patient the trip to the clinic, and speaking to the machine seems to be more comfortable for some people: "… some patients are more inclined to report health problems during an automated assessment than directly to a clinician" (Piette, 2001).
The availability of the Internet has brought significant changes to health services. The fact that the number of elderly people in the U.S. and other industrialized nations is rising is beginning to put pressure on health services. This increase is one reason for the increase in home care, and with "Internet access available to everyone and the advent of wireless technologies, advanced telehomecare is a possibility for a large proportion of the population" (Herzoga, 2003). New developments, such as "network technologies that connect sensors and input devices in the patient home to a home health care provider" made home care for even gravely ill patients a possibility.
In one study done in Sweden, it was found that it's possible to hook monitors in the patient's home to the health care provider via the Internet. The system has four "networks": the first is comprised of the "sensors, input devices, and the processing unit for evaluation and display of measurement data" in the patient's home; and the second is the "network between the patient home and the health care provider for transmitting data from the home to a central server" (Herzoga, 2003). The other two parts of the system are the Intranet (interior systems) of the health care organization; and a "mobile network that gives authorized [sic] home caregivers in the field access to services on the health care Intranet" (Herzoga, 2003). The main point is that the data that the monitors gather reflects the patient's condition and must be transmitted quickly and accurately to the health care provider—and the only way it can be done is via the Internet (Herzoga, 2003).
Computer technology has evolved from huge mainframes that took up an entire room to the personal computers and laptops that people carry with them. Likewise, the Internet has grown from a military network to a world-wide system that connects nations, governments and people.
Computers have made health services record keeping much easier; they can generate bills, answer phones, and help nurses track patients' appointments. And as we saw above, they can even interact with patients by making phone calls that allow diabetic patients to report on their condition.
The Internet has taken computer networking to a new level, making it possible for even seriously ill patients to stay at home. A system in the patient's house monitors his condition, and then transmits information over the Internet to a health care provider. Since it's well known that people are more comfortable in their homes than in a hospital, this is a great use of the best the Internet has to offer.