With advancements of medical technology and improved diagnostic and treatment options, children with severe birth defects who would otherwise have no chance of surviving post birth survive to go home every day. The average lifespan in the United States has increased substantially over the last century. These successes and many other medical breakthroughs in managing complex illnesses, particularly in frail, elderly patients, have resulted in an increasing percentage of patients with comorbidities. This, coupled with a policy change by Medicare (i.e., Medicare will no longer reimburse hospitals for costs associated with treating preventable errors and injuries that a patient acquires while in the hospital), creates an enormous challenge to health care providers. To meet the challenge, the authors propose a new model of health care-the autonomic care system (ACS)-a concept derived from the intensive care unit and the autonomic computing initiative in the computer industry. Using wound care as an example, the authors examine the necessity, feasibility, design, and challenges related to ACS. Specifically, they discuss the role of the human operator, the potential combination of ACS and existing hospital information technology (e.g., electronic medical records and computerized provider order entry), and the costs associated with ACS. ACS may serve as a roadmap to revamp the health care system, bringing down the barriers among different specialties and improving the quality of care for each problem for all hospitalized patients.
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