TECHNOLOGY AND PUBLIC HEALTH
Technology provides benefits to the delivery of health services to the public in many ways. Recent developments in the field of health service and key institutional arrangements have given health service providers more resources which hasten the delivery and improve the quality of the services to the public (Bhat, 2005). As better health service tools are made available by the advancement of technology, it is highly anticipated that human errors will be lessened although the possibility of more complicated problems remains. The development of a better health service technology may certainly give rise to new challenges that can only be resolved with new technological tools. For the meantime, the current technology used in the delivery of health services are better than the earlier years when human labor did most if not all the work.
Today, the massive reach of the World Wide Web has given health service providers the capacity to widen their base of clients and the ability to publicize what they have to offer with just the click of a mouse. For example, the rise of the internet has enabled health service providers to establish their own websites in order to reach the larger public who might be in need of their services and who are at the same time unaware that such services exist. Moreover, the public can easily browse through the websites of such health service providers and identify the suitable and necessary service that they need right at the comfort of their own homes. More importantly, the public can now easily contact such providers through their website, transcending geographical boundaries with relative ease. As a result, more lives can be given the needed treatment and health services as soon as possible.
Another positive development is that the advent of more complicated machines in the health service sector has accelerated the delivery of healthcare services across the globe. Better health scanning and monitoring devices are now available compared to earlier times when the tools used were relatively simple and reliability was one of the primary concerns of such tools when used. Brain scanning machines and X-ray machines, for instance, have endowed health service providers more accuracy in determining diseases and ailments with a higher rate of reliability compared to earlier times. The fact that these tools perform more efficiently and more accurately only suggests that those who use them are assured of a better delivery of health service (Connelly, 2004).
The continuous researches made in the medical field have also paved the way for the development of better medications in great numbers. As scientists and doctors have become increasingly aware of the full complexities of certain diseases and ailments, they have also become more knowledgeable in their field. Kyle, Balmes, Buffler and Lee (2006) indicate that the levels of expertise of a number of medical researchers and doctors have proportionally increased, thereby giving enabling them to better diagnose health problems and offer the necessary medications. No longer are we confined at a time when penicillin was not yet discovered nor are we stuck at a generation where most illnesses prove to be worrisome threats to the entire human civilization due to the lack of available drugs. We are now at a time where technology has continuously redefined our understanding of human health, giving us the needed knowledge to develop new medicines that can spare thousands if not millions of human lives.
Technology has also made possible the ease of communication between health service providers across continents with very minimal delay. The creation of online conferences and wireless messaging has introduced a new wave of interaction among doctors and medical specialists coming from different countries. They are now able to communicate with one another in real-time despite being separated by thousands of miles thanks to the internet and computers. Because of such development, sharing information has never become this easy without the hassle of travelling to large distances. For example, a medical specialist in the United Kingdom can easily report an unusual case of a certain patient to another medical specialist in Asia who might be knowledgeable about the status of the case. A hospital staff can easily enter into an online conversation with a representative from the distributor of medicine from the other side of the world and request for new supplies of the needed drugs. There are still countless other examples; the most important thing to remember in the end is the idea that technology has made interaction among health service providers more dynamic minus the rigors and delays of physical travel (Politzer, 2005).
Lastly, perhaps the most prominent impact of technology on the delivery of health services by agencies is the fact that technology, through mobile phones and other wireless devices for communication, has saved countless numbers of lives under the most pressing emergency situations (Kelman & Thomas, 1998). For example, a mother who is on the verge of giving birth to her child can easily contact the nearest hospital through mobile phone, prompting the health agency to immediately send an ambulance which will take the person to the hospital. Another example is when a person suffers from heart attack or stroke. The family members can quickly call a doctor via mobile phone and the ‘patient’ can immediately receive the proper treatment either at home or in the emergency room of the hospital. The most important thing to note is that technology can and will save lives as far as health services are concerned.
While there are positive sides to the advent of technology and the benefits it gives to the health service sector, it also has certain negative sides to it. For one, the development of new and more complicated medical tools used by patients in a hospital setting, for instance, will certainly come at a price. While better facilities and equipments are developed, the price tags for these items will most likely be higher compared to older facilities and equipments. There may be several exceptions to this case, but the more general observation is that new and better medical machines do not come cheap (Rivett & Roberts, 1995).
That being the case, only those who have the financial capability to pay for the use of such tools can reap the rewards that technology has to offer. In effect, technology creates an invisible divide among the so-called haves and have not’s in the health service sector. It is rather easy to say that technology has only widened the gap between the rich and the poor, especially between those who direly need medical attention but are unable to afford one and those who suffer the same fate but are fortunate enough to have the means to afford what technology has to offer (Sen, 2005).
Needless to say, anything that is relatively new does not generally come cheap. The development of new technologies will also require health service providers to familiarize themselves first with the new tools. This may come in the form of a series of trainings for the medical specialists before they are allowed to publicly practice their use of the technologies available. The maintenance of these technologies will also be one of the factors that health service providers have to deal with in connection to the cost of the service. Moreover, not all of these new technologies will be readily available to most countries in the world, thereby limiting the general public’s accessibility to these tools. Those who are incapable of travelling to cities and countries—usually because of the high cost of travel expenses—where new medical machines can be found are likewise unable to avail of them (Pathman & Konrad, 1996). It may take several months to several years before these people are able to avail of these tools in their own cities or countries. Even if that time comes, there is no telling if these people are still in a condition where the recovery of the body’s health is still possible in the first place. In general, the price tags for new technologies specifically developed to cater to the needs of the health service sector may initially come at a high cost and not all people can be able to afford them let alone get near them, in a manner of speaking.
However, it does not mean that the price tags for such tools and services in the health sector will remain at the same rate for all eternity. The continuous developments in technology will pull the prices of such health services lower as the tools are produced in larger quantities. Moreover, Lee, Alexander and Bazzoli (2003) suggest that health service agencies are pitted against other agencies that provide more or less the same types of health services that they provide, thereby creating a “competitive” environment where offering affordable and efficient health services can enhance the positioning of the agency in the industry. There are also monitoring agencies both in the government and private sectors which constantly scan the availability and the costs of the services being provided by public health agencies such as hospitals and other healthcare providers (Rahman & Smith, 1999). They ensure the clients availing the services that they only pay the amount for the kind of service that they receive. Basically, the rise of technological tools in the delivery of health services of health agencies to the public does not necessarily and immediately creates full disadvantages to people from various walks of life although, apparently, several exceptions can be made.
There is a promising future in terms of the delivery of health services to the public by various public health service agencies. Humanity is in a period where great developments in the medical field are happening as we speak. Delivering health services nowadays are not only quicker than earlier generations; they are also more reliable and more efficient today. The scale of the impact of technology today is already beyond measure as more developments are expected to materialize in the coming years. It is beyond doubt that, truly, public health agencies and the general public have a lot to thank technology for.
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