In the contemporary world, using advanced technology is evident in almost all aspects of life. The public and private sectors, and including the formal and informal sectors, have all embraced the use of advanced technologies in their routine activities. Due to advancement in technology, the world has turned into a global village where, information generated from one corner of the continent is transmitted to all corners of the continent in a matter of seconds. Manufacturers are being able to produce their products from their home countries, and market them to the rest of the world through the internet.
Individuals are able to acquire higher education from different learning institutions across the globe, right from their home countries, through the internet. Nowadays, many people do not make daily trips to their offices in order to work; they simply work from their houses using personal computers, which are linked to other computers located in their offices. Suppliers, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers are able to conduct business transactions without any physical interactions with each other. Production of commodities has become more economical as manufacturers adopt the use of computer-aided processing machineries and equipments.
The medical sector has also embraced the use of advanced technology in provision of health care. Health care providers use computer-aided methods of storing information, to store their patients’ medical information: medical information systems. Medical information systems, also known as healthcare informatics, are a combination of computer science, information technology, and health care provision. It is concerned with collection, analysis, storage, and retrieval of medical information of the patients and the general population, using the patients’ and population’s medical information in provision of care, using medical resources, and using medical devices (Barnett, 1997).
Medical information systems include not only the use of computers, but also the use of information and communication systems, medical terminologies, clinical procedures, and clinical guidelines. All these systems apply in the fields of pharmacy, nursing, dentistry, occupation health, public health, clinical care, and medical research. The main reason for the application of information systems in the medical field is to achieve improved efficiency and effectiveness of operations.
The world is currently experiencing increased use of mobile devices. In 2002, the Finnish Medical Society developed a mobile medical information system for use by health care providers across the globe (Tetard et al., 2005). The system consisted of medical guidelines, which are common in the medical practice. In 2005, the system was developed further, whereby, information features such as databases of addresses and contact information for almost all hospitals, health centers, and pharmacies, emergency care guides for various medical issues, laboratory guide, pharmacology database, and more than 50,000 acronyms used in the medical field were included (Tetard et al., 2005). The mobile medical information system is accessible to all medical care providers across the globe in different languages. Currently, the system is supported by mobile devices, which are supported by windows CE, Palm OS, and Symbian (Tetard, 2005). A good example of mobile device that supports the mobile medical information system is the Nokia 9210 communicator.
Currently, almost 80% of all medical care providers in developed countries; USA, UK, Germany, France, and Japan, are making use of information systems in their operations (Kaissi, 2010). The medical departments of the US military and the Finland military have also adopted the use of mobile medical information system (Tetard et al., 2005). The main reason for using this type of technology in the medical field is to assist health care providers to achieve efficiency and effectiveness in provision of medical care. However, there are other various positive and negative impacts of using medical information systems in the medical field from a sociological point of view.
According to Kaissi (2010), one of the social benefits of using information systems in the medical field is that it allows the doctors to concentrate on the patient’ needs during office visits. This is because the doctors are able to access patients’ medical information on real-time basis. Instead of spending a lot of time searching for patients’ medical information from paper records kept in bulk files, doctors spend much time talking to their patients and assessing their current medical needs. Doctors also do not waste much time making phone calls to the laboratories to inquire about patients’ lab results, thanks to the medical information systems where patients’ data for lab test results are captured and the doctors are able to access them immediately from their offices. As a result, the society has been able to obtain quality health care services, leading to improved qualities of life.
In addition, medical information systems have helped in improvement of patients’ education during hospital visits (Kaissi, 2010). This is due to easy access of patients’ medical information, whereby, a patient, a physician, and/or a family member can evaluate together on the screen, the medical history of the patient, the current problem list, the alternative methods of care, and the medication list through the internet (Kaissi, 2005). This allows a patient to understand his/her medical condition(s) better because; he/she can see the information as the physicians explains to him/her. Involvement of patients in their treatment procedures has helped the society to change its perspectives about provision of medical care. The society has now understood that the responsibility of ensuring the recovery of a patient is not vested on the physicians or medical care providers alone, but it involves both the patient and the medical care provider.
Improved communication between patients and physicians has allowed many people to participate more in all procedures of health care provision. That is, from diagnosis, to treatment, and to prognosis. Through the medical information systems, patients can contact their doctors to ask questions, report on their medical progress, or ask for further clarifications about certain medical conditions. It is therefore clear that medical information systems are assisting in encouraging patients to participate more in their medical needs. This has resulted into a society, which is more knowledgeable about its health, and the importance of actively participating in health care provision.
According to Kaissi (2010), “while many experts argue that collecting patients’ medical information in a digital form that can be viewed on a computer and easily shared by all health service providers has numerous benefits, a new study suggests that it can also lead to serious problems in communication.” When electronic gadgets are located in the physician’s examination room, instant messages alerts can really distract the physician when communicating with a patient. The patient’s concentration while communicating with the physician is also distracted by these gargets.
In addition, because physicians are able to access patients’ medical information even before seeing the patients in person, the amount of time spent by a physician on a patient is reduced. In many instance, physicians are aware of the potential medical problem(s) the patients are suffering from through the analysis of their past medical information. Therefore, when the patient enters the examination room, the physician engages with the patient for some time, makes a prescription for the patient, and then the patient leaves.
From the sociological point of view, the afore-mentioned negative impacts of using medical information systems have contributed to less physical interactions between patients and physicians. Patients and physicians are spending more time interacting with each other via the computerized devices than they are spending in physical interactions. Therefore, the physical connection between patients and physicians is drifting apart. Instead of physicians concentrating more on their patients, they are concentrating more on their information gargets. According to Kaissi (2005), lack of enough physical interactions between patients and physicians may lead to a situation where medical information systems will be more important that the patients. If this occurs, then the quality of medical care provided to the society is likely to decrease.
Another negative implication of using medical information systems in the medical field is that, people no longer value the importance of keeping their personal medical information private. Although many medical institutions have privacy policies, which provide guidelines concerning disclosure of patients’ medical information, personal information about one’s medical status has become almost like public information (Kaissi, 2005). Unlike in the past where people used to value the importance of privacy of personal matters, people no longer view medical information about others as private. For this reason, the contemporary society is lacking some moral values, which traditionally, used to provide guidelines for respect of other people’s personal information.
The security of patients’ medical information is a great concern, which has greatly affected the wide adaption of this technology in the medical field. Many patients have been getting concerned that their private medical information may be exposed to unauthorized users. Others are worrying that the physicians may capture some of their medical information, which they do not feel comfortable sharing with other people. All these security concerns discourage patients and the entire population from disclosing their historic medical information, especially when they are aware that the concerned health care provider makes use of information systems to capture their data. This has made it difficult for medical institutions to use medical information systems in providing medical care to their patients even where such systems are in existence.
Nevertheless, from a sociological point of view, the positive implications of using medical information systems in the medical field outweigh the negative implications of the latter. The quality of health care has increased, resulting into improved societal wellbeing, and many people have been able to participate more in procedures involved in health care provision. Technological advancement offers the medical field with an opportunity to improve its efficiency and effectiveness in provision of health care, hence resulting into more improved wellbeing of the entire society.