The growth of Internet applications in healthcare has been rapid. A growing number of patients are becoming increasingly involved in the healthcare service they receive. These 'power patients' possess characteristics that distinguish them from traditional patients and are an important factor in driving the use of the Internet in healthcare.
"Free choice of doctors, control over treatments received, access to quality information about their care and extremely high levels of customer service are some of the expectations of power patients." Besides, over the years, healthcare organisations have had to adapt to numerous changes, from advances in diagnostic and therapeutic procedures to the emergence of concepts such as managed care and telemedicine. The e-Health model represents another such change with far-reaching implications for healthcare organisations. In such a scenario, the Internet's capability to empower patients, support information exchange and thus result in new operational strategies, business and service delivery models can be very appealing although quite challenging.
Moreover, public health policies and regulations greatly influence the way in which healthcare organisations can use the Internet. For instance, uncertainty over privacy and security regulations regarding the use of electronic health information can deter organisations from sharing health records or administrative and financial information across the Internet.
"The transition to electronic healthcare and the use of the Internet to exchange health information raises serious security concerns," explains Nikolopoulos. "While the perception of the lack of security is inhibiting the use of the Internet for sharing clinical information, various technologies and procedures are being developed to deal with these security problems." The European Union is already enforcing strict medical data security standards and the North American market is also demanding improved security and confidentiality in healthcare transactions with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
In this scenario, all stakeholders will need to realise that in matters concerning security, privacy and confidentiality, ensuring 100 per cent absolute security and confidentiality is impossible. Instead, maintaining a good balance between actual or realistic needs, risks, costs and potential losses (including the impact on reputation), is essential. Until there is widespread consensus on such issues, security concerns will continue to inhibit the use of the Internet in healthcare.
The Role of the Internet in Healthcare is part of the Healthcare & Life Sciences IT Growth Partnership Service, which also includes research on patient data safety in the European healthcare IT markets, the computerised physician order entry systems market, the electronic medical records market and the hospital information systems market in Europe. All research included in subscriptions provide detailed market opportunities and industry trends that have been evaluated following extensive interviews with market participants. Interviews with the press are available.
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