Can Technology Save the Healthcare Field?

November 13, 2015

9:00 pm

Newsflash: the United States healthcare has an atrocious track record, particularly in expense. The US spends more per capita on healthcare than any other country, yet is consistently rated among the worst of developed nations. There are three major areas where the cost befalls the industry and advanced technology has a huge influence: quality, access and efficiency.

Quality

The biggest discrepancy where the US model fails is investment in IT for healthcare. The government has attempted to change this with the Health Information for Economic and Clinical Health Act (2009), which provided over $14 billion in grants to expedite the transition to electronic medical records (EMR).

Where EMRs are concerned, healthcare savings would incur less expense with reduction in administrative costs for processing and tracking of compliance and care provided. It also would aid in transferring records, shorter hospital stays and fewer mistakes. In short, patients get better coordinated care. Quality is further improved with better communication systems for identification, maintenance, and monitoring of conditions. EMRs create consistency in data collection, analysis and medical coding and billing.

Video surveillance enhances safety and increases quality for patients and workers alike. In this way, technology improves worker reliability and minimizes obscenely high costs of hospital infections and other preventable errors. Further, infection rates can be cut even more by the use of antibacterial glass in electronic devices. Such types of innovation will multiply once the demand becomes greater.

Quality can be improved in everything from pressure ulcers to medication management due to technology. Attention to patient positioning can cut down, if not cut out entirely, pressure ulcers. That alone could save the field millions of dollars. Seemingly innocuous things like re-positioning saves lives as well as a lot of money in terms of patient care and nursing time spent.

Improper prescriptions and other medication errors are costly, but avoidable. With better tech usage, expect to see a drastic decrease in improper medications, dosage and administration. Also there would be fewer issues with drug interactions, side effects and aggravations of underlying conditions.

Access

So far, healthcare is the one field where tech investments haven’t resulted in lower prices. America consistently ranks high in people declining medical attention because of cost. This is people not going in for necessary care, not taking medications, and not getting treatments or follow-ups to maintain active, healthy lives. As technology and the conversion to EMRs increases quality, it also should increase access in a myriad of ways.

Insurance coverage creates a more expensive model whereby a lot of cash goes in but not a lot comes out. On the surface, it may appear as though the tech industry wouldn’t be responsible for these outcomes, but there is a lot of room for improvement. The American Healthcare Act is intended to improve access. However, it requires patients taking the reins of their own health. Reinventing health insurance can be accomplished through such devices as fitness trackers and apps to connect with doctors (“digital clinics” or “telemedicine”), insurance agents, pharmacists and others in a quick and convenient system for the user.

Access to apps for staying healthy and tracking fitness would be a landmark advance. More patient availability to basic things like CT scans makes a huge difference. This has been noted to create more informed decisions. It turns out that being able to see CT images has a marked effect on the way patients treat themselves as far as cholesterol, dietary changes, exercising and weight loss are concerned.

The trick with cost and access is to be able to provide lower cost services without increasing wait times. Canada has an affordable system, but long waits. European countries seem to manage both. Technology advances should do the most to grant access to all patients.

Efficiency

Administrative costs, unnecessary testing, and overuse of emergency rooms really add to the cost with terrible lack of efficiency. These can be greatly reduced through IT.

EMRs and big data hold powerful influence with regards to efficiency as well. It is improved due to researchers being able to make sense of massive data collections and put it to good use. With the “internet of things” movement, use of sensors, real-time analytics, and other devices, doctors and researchers can more accurately understand their patients’ needs and better customize care.  Keeping medical systems updated and secure is a major task ahead, but should reap huge rewards when the infrastructure is in place.

Predictive analytics is another example of improved efficiency. For example, Intel uses big data to deal with Parkinson’s disease. Devices that monitor more conditions faster than any human, gathering data on aspects like tremors, sleep quality and speed and range of movement are huge assets for professionals.

Preventative maintenance is always worth more than a cure, and surely keeping workers healthy cuts down on accidents. Making sure we are all looking out for our own best interests, and that of those around us, makes it more efficient for healthcare workers evaluating patients and keeping them out of clinics and hospitals altogether.

Though the US ranks low in quality, access, and efficiency of healthcare delivery, on the whole there seems a commitment to the idea of improving the tech aspect of care. There have been no problems using tech to improve our lives in so many other ways.  Healthcare would seem to be the most natural part of society in which tech could control the cost and quality. However, late is better than never when it comes to preventative care, wait times and other attention from healthcare professionals.

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Daniel is a freelance writer and observationist, graduate of Linguistics, former English teacher and failed comedian. He has also worked in university libraries and pysch units. His interests include mindfulness, poverty and underground music of the Pacific Northwest. He is an ardent champion of free form, terrestrial radio and is a DJ at Radio Boise.

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