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 that 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 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 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that stage 3 of the adoption process has now been put off until 2017. Nonetheless, there has been a significant increase in the use of EHRs. A study performed in 2013 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.

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.

When this approach was tested in diabetes care (EHRs were combined with clinical algorithms), it showed to be superior to current practice. The combined approach of personal data with prognosis prediction surpassed the efficacy of previous methods and offered better interpretation of patient information and improved care guidelines.

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

Last week 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 will enable 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. The move to add predictive elements, based on personalized patient health data, will likely be quickly imitated by competitors and is only the beginning of increasing the use of artificial intelligence to improve population health.

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. In 2013, 30 percent of surveyed physicians routinely used capabilities for secure messaging with patients, and 24 percent routinely provided patients with the ability to view online, download or transmit their health records. This number is expected to grow in the coming years and further increase 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 towards better well-being.