The Importance of Health IT in Managing Chronic Diseases

In our rapidly advancing and interconnected society, healthcare providers are increasingly leveraging health information technology (health IT) to enhance chronic disease management. Chronic diseases are a major public health concern for public policymakers and industry leaders. If chronic disease rates continue to increase, so too will the negative impacts. This includes increases in healthcare expenditures, decreases in quality of life for patients, and increased mortality rates in the US and around the world.

Fortunately, health IT advancements have facilitated the tracking and management of chronic conditions, enabling patients to lead healthier lives and alleviating pressure on healthcare systems.

The Escalating Issue of Chronic Health Conditions

Chronic health conditions are diseases with long-term impacts on the patient, lasting at least three months but typically lasting years. Chronic diseases are responsible for a considerable portion of disabilities and deaths across the globe. Here’s a short list of common chronic health conditions:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cancer
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Alzheimer’s disease

According to the CDC, chronic conditions are responsible for up to 70% of all deaths worldwide. The increasing frequency of chronic health issues has profound consequences for societies and economies. These conditions present significant obstacles to healthcare systems, as they frequently necessitate extended care, costly treatments, and specialized management. 

Additionally, they affect the productivity and well-being of the individuals involved, leading to lost earnings, higher healthcare expenses, and decreased workforce involvement.

What is Contributing to the Chronic Disease Crisis?

Grasping the fundamental factors that lead to the growing occurrence of chronic diseases is essential for creating targeted solutions. The following are the primary drivers of this worrisome trend:

  • Lifestyle – Inactive lifestyles, poor diets, tobacco usage, and excessive alcohol consumption are the main risk factors for chronic health conditions. Processed foods, rich in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, and a precipitous reduction in physical activity due to urbanization and dependence on technology is contributing to the development of these diseases.
  • Aging populations – As life expectancy rises, the number of older individuals in the population also increases. Senior citizens may struggle with multiple chronic conditions related to age, long-standing lifestyle, and habits.
  • Environment – Many people think first of age and lifestyle, but environment also plays a key role in chronic disease incidence rates. Exposure to polluted air, tainted water, and dangerous chemicals due to rapid industrialization and urban expansion has caused an impact on public health. 
  • Social health determinants – Elements such as socioeconomic standing, education, and healthcare access play a vital role in determining an individual’s risk for chronic health conditions. Differences in health results among various social groups can be traced back to these determinants, making targeted interventions necessary to close the gap.

Managing Chronic Disease

If public health policymakers and healthcare systems hope to address this crisis in the United States, they’ll need a comprehensive approach that considers prevention, early detection, and effective treatment. This may involve public health campaigns to encourage healthy behaviors, initiatives to improve food environments, and targeted efforts to reduce disparities in health outcomes among different populations.

In addition to traditional healthcare interventions, health IT services are being increasingly utilized to combat chronic diseases. Telehealth and remote monitoring, for example, can offer more convenient and accessible medical care for patients while allowing healthcare providers to track patient health data in real-time and make informed treatment decisions.

Chronic disease management software (CDMS) is another technological solution that can help providers track patient symptoms, medications, and other health data to prevent disease progression and complications. This software enables healthcare professionals to maintain better communication with patients and reduce the number of necessary in-person appointments.

How Can Health IT Services Help?

Here are four compelling reasons for healthcare providers to utilize health IT for enhanced chronic disease management:

1. Comprehensive Data Access

Health IT enables healthcare providers to gather and analyze extensive data on patients with chronic diseases, such as vital signs, medication usage, and treatment outcomes. This information helps doctors devise personalized, data-driven treatment plans to reverse or mitigate chronic disease.

2. Improved Communication and Care Coordination

Electronic Health Records (EHR) and messaging portals can enhance communication between doctors and patients. This is a key component of care coordination and fostering healthy relationships between patients and providers, which can ultimately lead to better treatment adherence and improved health outcomes.

3. Automation of Routine Tasks

Health IT services automate many routine tasks associated with patient care, such as appointment scheduling, lab orders, and prescription refills. This allows providers to spend more time on direct patient care, fostering a strong patient-provider relationship and enhancing adherence to treatment plans.

4. Tools for Population Health Management

Health IT offers tools for improving population health management, allowing healthcare providers and local health officials to monitor and track chronic disease prevalence and trends effectively.

5. Enhanced Patient Engagement and Self-Management

Health IT solutions enable patients to actively participate in managing their chronic conditions by offering easy access to their medical records, learning resources, and self-monitoring tools. Mobile applications, wearables, and online platforms assist patients in keeping track of their symptoms, reminding them about medications, and observing their progress over time.

6. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning

These booming technologies have recently stepped into the healthcare space, dramatically enhancing healthcare providers’ capacity to predict, diagnose, and address chronic illnesses. By analyzing vast datasets and identifying patterns, AI-powered algorithms assist providers in delivering more accurate diagnoses, anticipating disease progression, and devising customized treatment strategies that cater to each patient’s unique characteristics.

Machine learning algorithms can help providers assess the effectiveness of different therapeutics, considering how a patient’s unique vitals and characteristics can impact treatment success.

IT Within Healthcare Continues to Grow

As healthcare systems grapple with the escalating chronic disease issue, industry leaders anticipate an increasing significance of health IT services. By equipping healthcare professionals with indispensable tools for gathering, analyzing, and utilizing comprehensive health data, IT services play a crucial role in enhancing various aspects of healthcare, from personalized medicine to improved patient engagement and predictive analytics. Organizations that have not yet implemented health IT into their systems will face a difficult road ahead in managing chronic diseases within patient populations.

Ann Krutsko

Healthcare IT Consultant and Senior Business Analyst, ScienceSoft.

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