SWOT Analysis for Clinical Information Systems

A clinical information system can be defined to be a system that offers a set of tools and storage space for data processing and data storage respectively. The set of tools is used for the advanced processing of data using intelligent, intuitive, or bioinformatic algorithms rendering advanced diagnostic capabilities, and this processed data is afterwards stored in a digital form in the backend hardware, which is then further archived.

In all these cases the data ideally is clinical, that is, the data is patient biological data. The term 'biological data' can be related to a patient pathological study or a patient histological study or patient medical bills. Hence, any information system dealing solely with patient medical/clinical data is called a clinical information system.

At present the clinical information systems technology domain has the following strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats:


Boom of information technology (IT)
The IT boom has affected people worldwide and in a myriad of technical and industrial domains--the situation in the healthcare industry domain is no different. IT has introduced doctors and medical professionals to the digital world, thereby allowing digitization, automation, and organized storage on a virtual platform.

Need for storage of digital versions of clinical records
Conventionally, people would use bulky and cumbersome paper reports as clinical data records. Hence, whenever patients underwent any form of medical consulting they had to carry the paper reports to the doctor. With the IT boom, any patient the world over finds it more convenient to have electronic medical records (EMRs), which are digital records safely kept at a digital repository. This eliminates the possible loss of a paper-based report and therefore crucial information, and the manual transportation of bulky records to medical consultations.

Need for an integrated information management system for clinical data
Hundreds of people visit hospitals on a daily basis for various reasons. The biological tests and consulting diagnosis made by physicians have to be stored as case files under patients' names. With time, managing such huge amounts of data and storing them safely as a record became an enormous problem for every hospital and clinic. Digital data makes it possible for hospitals to have such records organized, formatted, processed, and stored on a virtual platform, which could later be transferred to compact discs.

Need to have ready access to clinical data
The digitized version of medical records or EMRs allow patients to have access to their clinical data no matter where they are, if they have access to the Internet. Through the World Wide Web (WWW) patients can access their records and also save a copy on their computers for ready reference. This speeds up medical treatment and also relieves patients from having to physically carry their records when they travel.

Huge data storage and faster data processing capabilities of mainframes
Conventionally, mainframes have been used by the banking sector to process and record its transactions. This is also applicable to the healthcare industry which has a central government repository where patient data is finally stored. This centralized repository is also mainframe based as it is faster and can accommodate huge amounts of data. But the recent trend is for server-based models for data storage because of the facility of easy and ready access.


Keeping a mainframe as back end is less user-friendly and requires time-consuming upgradations
Mainframe is actually an old technology that is robust but not as user friendly as the present day systems. People today want easier access and more user interactiveness. Keeping a mainframe as backend also means that the work has to be performed in languages such as NATURAL and COBOL, which are not easy to work upon. A line of coding written by a software engineer in COBOL or NATURAL is costlier than a line of Java code. Hence, upgradations become expensive and troublesome.

Low security
Hackers the world over can hack into a particular low-end clinical data repository (server-based) and have ready access to some one else's data. So there is now a problem of identity crisis and invasion of privacy. Hence, digital security needs to be hiked.


Development of platform independent coding languages
If a Java Virtual Machine is installed in any system then many other high-end coding languages can be used parallely along with Java. Additionally, upgradations are easily made in Java or any other present-day platform-independent coding languages.

Efficiently networked servers as an alternative to mainframes
Servers provide easy and speedy real-time access to data and are easily maintained. Software upgradation is also easily accomplished. Hence, there is a need for having a properly connected multiple server infrastructure, which will aid in storing bulky data (similar to the bulk of data handled by mainframes) while rendering easy access to that data for patients or end users.

More efficient and more user-friendly interfaces
Developing the front end and adding more and more features to the front end of any information system is critical for any industry, and healthcare is no exception.

Development of better and more effective security protocols
Security is both a need and a threat to any modern society or industry, which largely rely on digital or electronic modes of operation. Security concerns need to be addressed to prevent the invasion of privacy and malpractices using an individual's clinical data.

Development of efficient and intuitive data processing software and bioinformatics tools
This is a field where the platform of bioinformatics will play an extremely important part. Attractive front ends of information systems should be provided with efficient interactive multimedia tools for high-end data processing. These tools are software algorithms such as the algorithms used for heart rate variability analysis where electrocardiogram data processed using the algorithms may even reflect the physical stamina of the individual. Such advanced diagnosis can be a very effective tool for judging an athlete, for example.


Security concerns
As already mentioned, malpractices using any other person's data is the biggest threat to the clinical information systems industry. Hence, the threat to digital security due to hacking needs to be tackled.


Ethan Smith

E-mail: esmith@frost.com

To comment on this article, write to us at tiresearch@frost.com

To find out more about Technical Insights and our Alerts, subscriptions and research services, access http://ti.frost.com