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Computer Networks Could Improve Health Care


When W. “R.P.” Raghupathi broke his hand during a visit to Atlanta three years ago, he spent several hours in the emergency room waiting for treatment as his medical records were dictated, via telephone, from California. The information technology (IT) is available to automate and electronically transmit medical records in cases where a patient and his files are on opposite coasts.

However, patient privacy issues, a lack of national data standards and reluctance among medical professionals have made the transition slow and accessibility to medical records difficult, according to a study co-authored by Raghupathi, an associate professor of information systems at Fordham University. The study, titled “Strategic IT Applications in Healthcare,” chronicles some of the challenges and advantages of healthcare/IT systems. It will appear this fall in Communications of the ACM, published by the Association for Computing Machinery.

Raghupathi co-authored the study with Associate Professor Joseph Tan of the University of British Columbia. One of the challenges for healthcare/IT is security. “Many web sites are selling credit card data and other private information on the Internet. I had two cards automatically canceled recently because their security was compromised,” Raghupathi said. “Can you imagine what would happen if your medical records got into the wrong hands?” According to the study, the benefits to hospitals utilizing IT are great.

Upgraded computer systems facilitate easy access to critical health information and more efficient care at lower costs. Instead of relying on handwritten notes buried in poorly organized paper files, doctors, nurses and other health providers are slowly converting main frame computer systems to IT networks, according to the study. For instance, Geisinger Health Care System in Danville, Pa., the largest U.S. rural HMO, uses its intranet system to operate a call-in center for people with medical questions. It also has a computer kiosk in its waiting room where patients can look up departmental procedures and services.

Doctors use the system to post digital pictures of patients’ injuries for insurance purposes. However, most large hospitals still rely on 30 and 40-year-old systems and smaller ones do not have the resources to upgrade their systems, according to the study. And new systems do have snags. For instance, hospitals in New York and California may have completely automated systems, but the systems may be incompatible and unable to share vital patient information, Raghupathi said. “Healthcare IT is not taking off because of the lack of national standards,” he said. “Different parts of the country use different codes for different diseases and treatments.

If hospitals don’t agree on how to code them, the systems will be incompatible.” Fordham’s Graduate School of Business Administration was established in 1969 and has been recognized nationally for the quality, innovation and comprehensiveness of its programs, which prepare graduates for global competition. The school’s part-time MBA program is ranked 14th by U.S. News & World Report.


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