There’s a software solution for almost everything these days, from tracking your jogging route to managing the national budget. JACO DE KLERK takes a look at the particular value of technology in the healthcare sector.
Information technology (IT) has become essential to the day-to-day operations of most modern businesses, with enterprises in the healthcare sector increasingly reliant upon its benefits.
As Edward Carbutt, executive director at Marval South Africa, a single-source supplier of IT service management (ITSM), points out, if technology isn’t managed adequately and services aren’t assured, the impact is felt by the business as well as its customers.
In the corporate world, poor IT management can result in lower profits, ineffective services and unsatisfied customers – but in the healthcare sector, the implications can be far more devastating.
Ineffective services in healthcare will have a negative impact on the health of the organisation and, more importantly, on the health of patients. “When it comes to the healthcare sector, the effective management of information technology, clinical systems and service infrastructure really can be a matter of life or death,” says Carbutt.
Healthcare enterprises – including hospitals, clinics and doctors’ rooms – generate huge volumes of information that must be effectively stored and managed. Carbutt says this includes critical and confidential patient data, which needs to be managed and stored in a secure manner that cannot be compromised.
“The sheer scope of data capture, storage and management required in the healthcare sector is enormous,” says Carbutt, “and high levels of availability are critical because of the risks to patients in the event of downtime.” However, as he explains, these functions are often managed by under-sized IT departments – “which are expected to operate vastly complex infrastructures on shoestring budgets.”
Under-staffed and poorly resourced IT departments might spark some worry if one considers that medical equipment has largely converged with IT technologies. “And adopting new healthcare equipment adds further pressure to already strained resources,” says Carbutt.
However, in a field where the ultimate aim is perfection – in order to save more lives – new technologies are essential. These, including clinical systems, rely on a stable IT infrastructure to mitigate against risk and provide the best patient care possible.
“The challenge for IT departments in healthcare is to adopt and integrate the latest technology to ensure maximum availability and reliability,” says Carbutt. “Ultimately, the goal of the IT and clinical infrastructure is to enable the organisation to do things faster, better and cheaper.”
He points out that while patient care should obviously be the number one priority, running an effective healthcare organisation is also about demonstrating value along with governance and compliance with regulatory requirements.
“When you consider this, as well as the impact that technology has on a healthcare facility such as a hospital, the need for ITSM within healthcare becomes immediately apparent,” states Carbutt. “ITSM, together with the adoption of industry best practices and international standards, is intrinsically linked to the overall performance of the organisation and imperative in enabling healthcare organisations to deliver improved patient care.”
He explains that ITSM has several other benefits, including the ability to deliver consistent services in a manner
that is both accountable and auditable. “This in turn allows for benchmarking against peer organisations or competitors,” says Carbutt, adding that this helps to create a culture of continual service improvement – something that’s ideal for any sector, especially healthcare.
It is beneficial to centralise IT functions and services to demonstrate the contribution and value they add to the organisation, its stakeholders and customers. “Healthcare also needs an integrated process and service management toolset which supports best practice and standards, regulatory compliance and governance requirements,” says Carbutt.
He says this will ensure a consistent approach that delivers reliable levels of service, with optimised costs and a more intelligent use of expensive resources.
“It is vital to look at the big picture to ensure that the solution not only supports current requirements, but is able to incorporate changes in the future and drive value within the organisation,” emphasises Carbutt.
He adds that adopting standards such as ISO/IEC 20000 (the first international standard for IT service management) will ensure that the right controls and delivery mechanisms are in place, and that processes and procedures can be externally audited to meet the required governance, controls and evidence.
The reality is that healthcare organisations will benefit from effective, stable and reliable IT services – with ITSM in healthcare going deeper than just ensuring value for money and efficiencies. “When patient care is the ultimate priority, and IT underpins this, ITSM becomes a vital tool in ensuring the health of both the healthcare sector and the patients it serves,” says Carbutt. “Effective IT services in healthcare can save lives.”