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By MATTHEW HAY
HHBR Washington Correspondent
It is only a matter of time before the Internet becomes an integrated part of home care operations, according to Tom Williams, president of Stony Hill Management and executive director for the Home Care Information Technology Council. But he said home care providers will remain very much in control of that process for the next few years.
"What is going to happen is the momentum that you have in the marketplace and a number of other factors are going to push you to a position where it is probably not going to be an option," he said. "You are going to find many of your critical business functions and business processes supported using products that rely upon the Internet.
"I have been amazed at how rapidly some of the changes have taken place in the marketplace," he added. But he said that since the electronic environment is changing very rapidly, it is difficult to predict.
"We are on the front end of the technology development," said Williams. He added that technologies that look impressive today are only crude technologies compared to what lies ahead.
Williams predicts that three factors will drive increased use of the Internet. "The first is going to be necessity," he said. In short, companies will want to use Internet-based products and Internet-based technologies to cut costs, such as long-distance communications, Williams predicts.
He said companies are increasingly looking at the need to reduce costs in a number of areas and that products and services now being offered in the marketplace are going to offer that opportunity. For example, he noted the importance of communications between caregivers and administrative staff, as well as keeping people in the field in touch with what is going on in the office and facilitating communication. "The Internet will be a vehicle for you to do that," he said.
Williams said the second factor that is going to drive increased Internet use is innovation. He said that includes technological changes that are taking place in use of the Internet. For example, he said, the "intelligent bandage," which has a microprocessor built in it, changes color to notify a patient when a wound is infected.
Another innovation, he predicts, is the "nano computer," which includes organically grown computing chips. Some companies announced breakthroughs in that particular technology about a year ago, he noted. "They were talking about an ingestible chip that is swallowed so we can see the circulatory system," he explained. "That chip will then transmit a signal and give diagnostic data as it moves through your system."
Williams said the third factor that is going to impact use of the Internet is legislation. There already is legislation, the Health Insurance Portability of Administrative Simplification Act (HIPPA), that is going to force agencies to begin using the Internet to a much greater extent, noted Williams. "The underlying premise is that you are going to need a set of 13 different electronic transactions electronically as you swap data between yourself and payers, case management companies, managed care companies, and employers.
"As they provide enrollment data, you are going to be expected to handle these transactions electronically, and the backbone you are going to use for that is going to be the Internet," he explained.
Williams added that home care providers cannot afford to lag years behind other industries or other segments of the healthcare industry. "You are going to be legislated into it, you are going to be regulated into it, and you are going to want to be there to streamline your operations to save yourselves some costs," he said.