By now, everyone is familiar with medical waste containers, the bright red boxes emblazoned with the “biohazard” symbol that dot the halls and offices of most health care facilities. They have one purpose, to hold dangerous, potentially infectious trash out of the regular waste stream for safe disposal.
It’s all very neat and tidy… but perhaps no longer completely adequate.
As technology continues to transform these same health care organizations, IT administrators and CIOs are being confronted with a new kind of medical waste, and this type won’t fit neatly in a little red plastic bin. This waste currently resides on the desktops and data centers of health care practitioners, and while it may look harmless enough, if handled improperly this e-waste is as big a risk to the organization as tainted syringes and used surgical tools.
The looming issue of medical e-waste was made evident at this year’s HIMSS15 annual conference in Chicago. Health care IT’s biggest annual event, the show attracted more than 40,000 attendees and 1,400 exhibitors, the largest in the show’s history and proof positive that information technology remains top of mind in the medical industry.
The big buzz at this year’s HIMSS event was around mobile health care. mHealth, as it is known, is getting a major boost from a variety of government directives, such as Meaningful Use, guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and new Medicare reimbursement requirements, according to the 2015 HIMSS Mobile Technology Survey.
The results suggest that health care organizations are beginning to deploy mobile technologies more widely, looking to better engage with patients within their organizations. A whopping 90 percent of respondents said they now use mobile devices to interact with patients.
Nearly half (47 percent) of respondents said that implementation of mobile services for access to information is a high priority. Moreover, some two-thirds (67 percent) of those polled said at least some portion of the information on a mobile device is uploaded into electronic health records.
The improvements brought about by mobilization of health care organizations are undeniable. More than half (51 percent) of those polled by HIMSS said their organizations have been able to improve patient care through the use of advanced IT and mobility.
The transformation, however, is not without its challenges. Advanced mobility, BYOD and cloud-enabled services require significant changes to existing IT infrastructure. The wave of laptops being deployed in the ER are displacing dozens of legacy desktops. Hosted applications to support telemedicine and home health programs are usurping legacy applications and allowing medical facilities to take hundreds of servers out of service as part of data center consolidation programs.
Mobility and IT modernization are great for patients and great for the health care organizations that serve them. The real obstacle, however, remains the safe disposal of old technology to make way for the new.