A Few Ways Health Technology Is Transforming Our Health-Care System

A Few Ways Health Technology is Transforming Our Health-Care System

Utilizing new opportunities for patient care and engagement has become an important part of modern health care. It is also improving the way we approach disease prevention. Those who are quicker to adopt health innovation—both patients and clinicians—will see early benefit from these advances.

Gaps in Electronic Health Records Adoption

Electronic health records (EHRs) are being increasingly adopted across the United States, which is in accordance with the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act) that was passed in 2009.

This legislation stipulates the meaningful use of health technology and supports the implementation of EHRs. Initially, financial incentives were offered to providers using EHRs, and it was predicted that by now the adoption process would have finished. In the original HITECH Act, possible penalties could be incurred by health-care organizations not demonstrating meaningful use of modern digital health technology after 2015. However, the adoption process has been slower than expected, so in 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that stage 3 of the adoption process had been put off until 2017. Last year, meaningful use of EHRs became an option for all providers. In 2018, the implementation of stage 3 of the rollout process was made mandatory. Some groups, however, requested that stage 3 be postponed again due to concerns surrounding readiness among providers and vendors. Nonetheless, there has been a significant increase in the use of EHRs. A study performed in 2013 by Michael Furukawa and coauthors found that 78 percent of office-based physicians have now adopted some type of EHR.

The adoption rates were lower in single practitioner practices and non-primary care specialties, signaling there is still room to further mass adoption in some settings. Furukawa’s data analysis also showed that uptake of meaningful use of health information technology could reduce adverse drug events in hospitals, such as medication errors, overdoses and allergic reactions. In an article published in 2017 in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, Furukawa and colleagues reported that a 20-percent reduction in adverse drug events could be attributed to the meaningful use of EHRs. This information might push more hospitals to adopt EHRs and lower physician resistance that is still affecting meaningful use.

Missed Opportunities

Failing to fully adopt EHRs is not the only challenge that hinders health-care infrastructure. Data collected in EHRs have much greater potential than what is currently being utilized. When these systems are enabled to connect multiple sources of information, they are better equipped to generate predictive algorithms regarding a patient’s treatment response.

Several studies tested this approach in diabetes care. When EHRs were combined with clinical algorithms, the strategy was shown to be superior to current practice. Combining personal data with prognosis prediction surpassed the efficacy of previous methods. It offered a better interpretation of patient information as well as improved care guidelines. A study conducted by Dr. Michael Klompas of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute in Boston also found that EHR data can help detect more cases of diabetes and discriminate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Klompas and his team believe that this new technology could be implemented as an automated public health service and might assist with practice management and patient recruitment for clinical studies.

With modern EHRs, information can now be displayed automatically and provide a medical team with relevant care and treatment management guidelines that are patient-centered and adapted for an individual patient. One of the criticisms of population-based treatment regimens is that interventions calibrated against a baseline average are derived from generalizations about a population. This approach is notorious for under- or over-compensating the needs of an individual. Moreover, a standardized yet data-driven algorithm assures that the individual’s care plan is evidence-based and logical. Instructions and protocols get constantly updated, which enables coordinated and consistent care tailored to the unique needs of the patient. There is also significant evidence that combining EHRs with clinical decision support systems (CDSSs) can revolutionize health care and transform collected data into actionable information.

Computer Helping Patients

In 2015, IBM and CVS Health announced a joint venture to use the colossal predictive analytical power of IBM’s Watson computer to provide personalized care to CVS customers. The partnership enables CVS to better identify consumers who may be at risk for negative health outcomes and then deliver tailored services to them that increase the odds of improving their well-being.

Watson Oncology, a new cognitive computing system, is now being used by Memorial Sloan Kettering clinicians to interpret cancer patients’ clinical data and find the best treatment based on years of stored expertise and research. This means that the latest evidence can travel faster through the oncology community and improve patient care. Moreover, it also enables expanding knowledge from one specialist to another. This could ensure you get the same top-tier care regardless of who your doctor is.  The move to add predictive elements based on personalized patient health data will likely be quickly imitated by competitors, and it is only the beginning of increasing the use of artificial intelligence to improve population health. Partnerships between companies like IBM and medical and pharmaceutical companies can ensure that innovations are applied to everyday health care faster.

Patients Helping Themselves

Another great opportunity offered by digital health technology is the opportunity for increased patient engagement. Patients can now view, download and access their health information, as well as make informed decisions about their treatment options. Michael Furokawa and his team of researchers found that doctors increasingly use technology to share information with their patients. In 2014, 30 percent of surveyed physicians routinely used capabilities for secure messaging, and 24 percent routinely provided patients with online access to their health data. This number has likely grown further in the past years and potentially increased patient-doctor collaboration. 

New strategies are being deployed all the time to increase patient engagement through technology. Mercy—a health organization with a chronic diseases outreach program—pairs technology with its health coaches. Coaches use technology to help motivate patients to take personal initiative and get more involved in their own care. In this sense, technology alone is not the answer. Human connection helps shift attitude and supports positive behavior change, while technology amplifies this effect. Human interaction will likely continue to be an important factor and remain a determinant regarding the success of health outcomes, even as the evolution of technology helps us improve in ways that accelerate and scale progress toward better well-being. 

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