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Hardware, Software, and Databases

The previous posts covered the progression from an organization’s competitive strategy to value chains, business processes, and information systems. In this post, we will concentrate on the technology aspect of information systems – particularly the hardware, software, and database components as they relate to health care.

Hardware and Software 


Basic terminology and technology, such as computers, servers, tablets, storage, and peripherals, as well as major operating systems and applications software. This is information that any user should be aware of and any business professional should be adept with. Most of the items listed can be found in any house, office, or organization and are used to support daily operations.

Besides technology used to support daily operations, there is tremendous technological innovation that has the potential to revolutionize the healthcare delivery. Mobile devices, wearables, virtual reality, augmented reality, robotics, bioprinting, and Internet of Things are just a few examples that could:

Enhance healthcare delivery. Provide global access to services. Increase safety, quality, and effectiveness of diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and management of disease. Health informatics professionals must constantly monitor advances in technology and its healthcare use.

Databases


A healthcare organization typically manages socioeconomic, financial, personal, and clinical data to support delivery of healthcare services, research, quality improvement, public health, etc. However, to be useful, these data must be easily accessible – preferably in a digital and organized fashion.

In the past, healthcare data were collected in paper forms. In fact, many organizations still maintain paper-based data forms. Apart from the waste of physical space required to store all these paper forms, there are many disadvantages associated with using such data to create useful information, such as:

  • Illegible hand writing

  • Ambiguous and incomplete data

  • Data fragmentation

  • Lack of continuous overview due to the volume of the data

A paper-based filing system can be considered a physical database. However, the term database is typically reserved to describe computer-based data-processing systems. Databases are collections of organized data that are easy to access, manage, and update. Instead of data being stored in paper forms, they are digitally filed under fields, records, and files in a database.


To create a database and manage its data, we used a specific type of software called a database management system, or DBMS. Notice the difference between DBMS and databases. The former is a software built to manage databases, and the latter is a collection of tables, relationships, and metadata. 


There are two types of DBMS: personal and enterprise. A personal system is typically built for small organizations and small number of users. Enterprise systems are built for larger organizations and support thousands of users. 


All of the DBMS listed use a specific query language to process a database. The query language is called SQL. Imagine a clinician wants to query a database on how many patients under his care have a specific disease. In that case, the database analyst will create a SQL statement to retrieve the required information. One important aspect of querying a database is the speed at which it returns the results of the query. The speed and flexibility with which one can retrieve information from a database relates to the way the DBMS organizes information, also known as data models.

Data models represent different ways for defining how data is connected to each other and how they can be stored and processed by the DBMS. Popular data models include the hierarchical model, the network model, and the relational model.

Hierarchical Model 


In the hierarchical model, data structures are organized in an inverted tree-like structure. Data are stored as nodes in the tree. Each node has one parent node and one or many child nodes.

For example, in the figure provided, the main node, or root, is dedicated to a company with two child nodes. Each child node corresponds to a different division of the organization, Division 1 and Division 2. The node Division 2 has two child nodes: Department 1 and Department 2. And the node Department 1 has two child nodes: Manager 1 and Manager 2.


Network Model and Relational Model will be our next topic. Please be in touch.


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