When we go to the doctor, we rarely think of what’s going on behind the scenes in the clinic or hospital we’re in, and mainly focus on the medical act. Medical software isn’t often on people’s minds unless they are professionals.
But, since patients are becoming more educated than ever before, there’s more and more interest in medical software – what it is, the different types available, and it’s use in medicine nowadays. Here, we explore these topics.
What Is Medical Software?
The name is pretty explanatory, but it doesn’t even begin to show how many things specialized telemedicine software can bring to a medical care provider. From handling care management aspects of the job to data collection data and reporting based on it, medical software is a tool that proves to be changing the face of medicine as we see it.
Broadly, we consider medical software:
Any software system that serves the healthcare industry, either stand-alone or as an integrated part of a medical device.
In other words, as the FDA describes it, software as a medical device refers to:
Software intended to be used for one or more medical purposes that perform these purposes without being part of a hardware medical device.
History of Medical Software
Even if we consider cyber medicine and the application of computer power to medicine as a relatively new thing, it has been around ever since the first computers were used. Ever since the 1960s, computing power has been used in medicine for collecting and storing information.
Software started to be added in medical devices as early as the 1980s when it was applied to cardiology, nuclear medicine, telepsychiatry, and other specialties.
As computers and informatics exploded in the following decades, the medicine industry adopted various applications into their protocols and actions, becoming strongly connected to each other.
Nowadays, there is a small chance to go to a medical unit that doesn’t use computers as part of their work.
What Types of Medical Software Is There?
Depending on its purpose, there are many different types of software in use in healthcare all over the world.
Technology has served medicine since centuries ago, as they go hand in hand to discover new ways of eradicating and fighting diseases.
Examples of Medical Software
Here are some examples of what kinds of software can be used in medicine:
- Software used as a stand-alone system that assists the doctors in diagnosis and treatment
- Medical device software, which are systems that collect data and communicate it to human operators
- Software used in development when devices are tested and evaluated, and
- Quality control management software solutions, that make sure a medical device works within desired parameters.
Software can be categorized differently, depending on what indicators we take into account.
If we shift our focus on the software’s function, we can consider the following types of software:
- Treatment software
- Diagnostics software
- Educational, and
- Data management and processing software.
Medical Device Software: New Standards in Medicine
Medical device software has such huge applicability that you might even have an example of it in your own home. If not, you have surely been in contact with such a device while visiting your doctor’s office.
In fact, we can truly say that software is currently a vital part of modern medicine, as it allows doctors to do things that weren’t possible before.
Where Is It Used?
To understand how prevalent medical device software is, here is a short list of examples where it’s used:
- Digital thermometers
- MRI machines
- X-ray machines
- Chemotherapy devices
- Devices that monitor the patient’s parameters and administer treatments
- Heart monitoring devices, and similar.
The list goes on and on, with more than a million different medical devices being used in medicine nowadays. Every cabinet has such an example, and many treatments are not possible without them.
HIT – Health Information Technology
Another application of software in a medical context is the collecting, storing, and processing of medical information – Health Information Technology (HIT).
Such programs are used by all medical sector stakeholders, from healthcare professionals and patients to governments, insurance companies, and more.
Not only does HIT increases the quality of medical service, but it reduces its costs and plays a valuable role in patient outreach – making healthcare more widely available to the population.
The use of HIT has changed medicine forever, bringing it to new peaks of performance and advancement. HIT increases accuracy and productivity and avoids errors and delays. Not only can it increase the quality of medical service, but it reduces its costs and plays a valuable role in patient outreach – making healthcare more widely available to the population.
How Does It Help?
But how exactly does HIT help medical units perform better?
Here are some examples:
- Time management and organization of human resources
- Instant information sharing between provider and patient, and between different providers
- Faster diagnosis, evaluation, and prognosis
- Better management of chronic diseases and disabilities
- Faster innovation in the medical sector
- Reduced paperwork, which means less time spent on non-medical tasks and less human errors that can affect the patients, and
- Treatment software that ensures the correct dosage of medicine.
There are various types of health information technologies that can be used in various healthcare units, from the smallest ones to giant organizations.
MPM: Medical Practice Management
This is the practical part of managing the administrative and clinical aspects of a medical unit’s activity.
Medical practice management includes:
- Managing patient flows
- Organizing human resources
- Gathering demographics
- Generating economic reports, and other administrative essentials.
By automating such tasks, it can increase a medical unit’s productivity and patient processing rate, providing a better healthcare experience for both patients and providers.
EHR/EMR: Electronic Health and Medical Records
They consist of having all the patient’s data stored electronically and processed through computing power, comprising a comprehensive database of past information on diagnoses, prescriptions, progress, and more that professionals can refer to.
This helps medical care professionals eliminate spent on handwritten records, while contributing to the bigger picture by enabling certain statistical analyses.
RPM: Remote Patient Monitoring
One of the most helpful functions of telehealth is to remotely monitor patients while they are at home. So many patients suffer from conditions that don’t allow them to leave their home or travel often, that the costs of having a medical or mental healthcare professional making actual visits would be huge, not to mention inefficient.
RPM allows patients to remain in the comfort of their home, while their health parameters are constantly monitored and the data transmitted to their doctor.
Not only can this help individuals keep a relatively high level of quality of life, but it can contribute to the bigger picture by collecting important data about conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and others.
Filling prescriptions manually is time-consuming and can lead to errors.
ePrescription systems allows doctors to fill in orders for their patients through a medical treatment software which will be sent directly to the pharmacy for the patient to collect it.
This saves time, money and makes prescriptions more accurate overall.
MPI: Master Patient Index
This type of HIT makes a patient’s record available to different medical entities, allowing instant access to vital data.
For example, if a patient is transferred from one hospital to another, Master Patient Index gives the doctors at the new hospital immediate access to the patient’s medical history and records, helping them choose the correct actions to be taken.
Without such tools, medical providers would have to manually duplicate medical data, which easily leaves room for error. When it comes to healthcare, errors can result in improper treatment, lost insurance claims and even tragic cases of lives lost.
One of the administrative parts of working in a medical care unit is handling the monetary aspect of it, which is rarely pleasant.
Medical billing software can make these tasks easier, faster, and more accurate.
This is one way to help both patients and medical providers, by offering increased transparency and client satisfaction.
Regulations of Medical Software
Similar to numerous other internet and digital applications of blended care tech, medical software usage has sky-rocketed with the increased use of smartphones and other mobile devices. People are always interested in monitoring their health, so this is a type of product that sells.
But are there downsides to it?
A Closer Look: Dangers of Medical Software
The problem is that many of these software items are not regulated at all and don’t provide accurate results.
As integrated software is regulated by default, with the testing of the medical device they are part of, the problem lays with stand-alone software that promises to do a certain job.
Such examples include:
- Body mass index and body fat calculators
- Software that analyzes pictures of skin formations and gives a diagnosis based on them
- Software that interprets imagistic results, like X-rays, cat scans, blood test results, and similar
- Heart rate monitors that only use a smartphone to work
- Stethoscope mobile apps, and
- Fertility calculators, to name a few.
These examples of mobile apps are constantly being downloaded by people who want to know about their health status, but don’t want or can’t go to the doctor in person.
Sometimes, it’s just curiosity that drives us to download and use such an app, but we should always ask ourselves if it was regulated by any qualified institution before it appeared in the online app store.
The Law on Medical Software
What is being done, then?
Briefly, governments have constantly responded to the increase in the creation and use of medical mobile apps, writing new laws to include them.
Because it’s such a new industry, law-makers are finding themselves forced to innovate and adapt to the new status-quo: easy circulation of information and applications.
Nowadays, medical software is regulated in both the U.S. and the E.U. through standards like IEC 62304. It includes all medical software that is developed in these territories, and the quality management requirements are quite clear.
The Future of Treatment Software
Medical care units such as e-clinics are usually early adopters of innovative technologies, but only after thorough testing and evaluation.
Research precedes practices, and nowadays there are many tech applications that are being tried out.
Currently used in banking and cryptocurrencies, blockchain represents the decentralization of data storage, which makes it much more secure and easily exchanged. In medicine, data is often stored in systems that can be hacked, and digital crime is highly focused on such valuable data.
Blockchain technology breaks the information into blocks that each have information about the preceding and succeeding blocks. This makes the data transmittable, but at the same time, impossible to break.
When it comes to the healthcare industry, such innovation could solve the pressing security issues on everyone’s minds.
The future is here: artificial intelligence is being used in an increasing number of industries. While the expertise and intuition of a human doctor are still irreplaceable, artificial intelligence can serve as a very helpful tool in diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring.
As artificial intelligence learns more and more, it can solve more complex problems and even provide a better view of the medical act.
We can particularly expect to see sectors like:
- Drug development, and
- Diagnosis to be revolutionized by the use of AI in the near future.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
One of the most spectacular and impressive uses of technology in the medical industry is the use of virtual reality and augmented reality.
Mainly applied in the training of medical professionals, it allows them to explore and practice surgery and other specialties – often, without fewer risks involved.
VR is also being used for people with strokes and other serious illnesses, helping them recover and re-learn.
- Anxiety disorders
- Online treatment planning, and
- Other mental health solutions also greatly benefit from the use of augmented reality and virtual reality.
It all shows how much promise there is in the innovative use of this technology.
Medical software such as treatment software, e-clinic software, and more all show just how far we’ve come as medicine meets innovative computer technologies.
What can be done in the present has greatly changed how medicine is practiced all over the world, and we can only hope that the future will bring many exciting things.
Do you use medical software in your role as a helping professional? Tell us more about it and join the discussion below.
- ^ FDA. (2020). Software as a Medical Device. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/digital-health/software-medical-device-samd
- ^ FDA. (2020). What are examples of Software as a Medical Device? Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/software-medical-device-samd/what-are-examples-software-medical-device
- ^ HealthIT.gov. (2020). Health IT: Advancing America’s Health Care. Retrieved from https://www.healthit.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/health-information-technology-fact-sheet.pdf
- ^ Institute of Medicine. (2003). Key capabilities of an electronic health record system. Retrieved from http://iom.nationalacademies.org/Reports/2003/Key-Capabilities-of-anElectronic-Health-Record-System.aspx
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- ^ IBM. (2020). What is Artificial Intelligence in Medicine?. Retrieved from https://www.ibm.com/watson-health/learn/artificial-intelligence-medicine
- ^ Wiederhold, B. K., Miller, I., & Wiederhold, M. D. (2018). Augmenting behavioral healthcare: mobilizing services with virtual reality and augmented reality. In Rivas, H., & Wac, K. (Eds.) Digital Health (pp. 123-137). Springer, Cham.