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Medical Software Increasingly Important in Both Management and Treatment Roles

It’s not been long since the introduction of the personal computer into doctors’ surgeries and hospitals was seen as something of a quantum leap. At the time, this technology was used mainly to record appointments and for general office housekeeping. Since then, computers or, more precisely, those responsible for creating their programmes, have made possible a level of automation in medicine that most healthcare professionals might have never believed possible. No longer just systems with which to store records and manage accounts, medical software has now crossed into territory once regarded as exclusively the domain of humans.

For instance, programmes are now available to assist physicians and surgeons in the often extremely difficult task of making a differential diagnosis. These programmes build a diagnosis based upon the input of symptoms and test results, using them as the basis with which to search a number of interrelated databases and compile a list of probabilities in order of likelihood. Depending upon its degree of sophistication, additional tests may be recommended and possibly even suggested treatments for the cited conditions may be generated by this type of medical software.

Diagnostic medicine has also benefited from advances in the use of X-rays. No longer are physicians confined to peering at 2-dimensional negative images in shades of black, white, and grey to confirm or rule out fractures, tumours, and other anomalies. Today, a rotating narrow beam of Röntgen rays circles the body to create sectional views which, when assembled in order, provide a 3-dimensional image of a limb, a head or an entire body that can then be inspected section by section. Computerised axial tomography, more often referred to as a CAT scan, would, not be possible without the extensive data processing capacity provided by the specialised medical software designed to transform the initial 2-dimentional slices into a 3-dimentional construct.

The computer age has not overlooked surgical needs and digital technology has now been applied for teaching purposes. Whereas dissection remains important to the understanding of anatomy, the use of cadavers for students to practice new or unfamiliar surgical techniques is gradually decreasing. In its place, much as in the use of flight simulators to train pilots, virtual reality programmes are able to simulate the experience of conducting various surgical procedures, a facility that greatly extends the length of time that one may spend in perfecting one’s skills.

Once again, it is medical software that has made this possible and is already showing signs that, in addition to teaching surgical techniques, it may soon be used to drive machines that are able to perform them. An article published in the May 2016 edition of Science Translational Medicine describes a successful intestinal anastomosis carried out by a robotic surgical machine, first on a length of intestine first removed from a pig and later within the abdominal cavity of an anaesthetised live pig. Interestingly, when compared with the suturing performed by a number of experienced surgeons undertaking the same procedure, the machine’s sutures were seen to be more consistent and to provide a better seal.

Of course, not all medical software is as mind-blowing in its abilities as this example but in no way does this serve to diminish its importance to healthcare professionals, particularly those doctors who have chosen to operate their own private practices. In their case, the need is not for surgical or image-building algorithms, but for programmes designed to relieve them of their administrative burdens and so create more free time in which to pursue the core business of caring for their patients.

While there may be some overlap, this type of medical software tends to be produced in one of two main forms – that dedicated to the billing function and relating to overall practice management. Of the two, billing is often the most appreciated, given that it offers the means to ensure timely and accurate claim submissions compliant with the requirements of individual medical aid funds, and the resulting income needed to meet expenses and maintain a healthy cashflow. Reminders and debt recoveries are part of the programme, while functions such as the appointment book, patient records, reporting, and accounting can be added if required. A chat with us could clarify your needs and whether to purchase medical software or lease it as a Web-based service.

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