As noted in an earlier post, the healthcare sector in general has been slow to adopt medtech. But forward-looking folks with medical and IT expertise continue to grapple with challenges of building this system of the future.
On November 4th 2015, national IT experts, policy thought leaders and healthcare practitioners met at the Washington D.C. Center for Total Health. The topic: “High Tech and High Touch: Patient-Physician Relationships in the New Millennium.” The goal: identify some answers to these challenges.
Hot Healthcare Challenges Demand Attention
Much of the discussion addressed the role of IT in improving access to medical care and controlling ever-increasing health costs. Panelists described these trends:
- Growing importance of health IT. Health IT systems now include IT-literate physicians and IT evangelists, who educate health providers.
- Better access to health information and treatment. IT provides secure, convenient access to healthcare facilities and providers and helps control the total cost of care. Examples include: Tablet computers used by social workers, who collect health information in the field; Telemedicine (video-based) appointments that link physicians with patients in remote locations; and Secure text messages used to communicate with health providers and remind patients of appointments and medication schedules—within the limits of HIPAA and other privacy and security regulations.
- Healthcare delivery in an environment of ballooning costs. Patients are moving to health IT to avoid duplicate treatments and tests, which inflate costs.
- Coordinated care delivered in a fragmented health care system. IT-based healthcare enables caregivers to consolidate fragmented data sources into a single, secure, easy-to-manage system. When used together, IT-based health information exchanges, electronic healthcare records and telemedicine enable providers to collect data from many sources, review it from one centralized location and manage it easily. Limiting EMR access to physicians and clinicians and using a heavily regulated digital information base can help keep newly compiled data secure.
- Overcoming the perception that medtech provides low-quality, impersonal care. On the contrary, IT can personalize healthcare. For example, patients living in rural areas might prefer to receive treatment at local or regional facilities. For these individuals, virtual consultations (telemedicine) might be more effective.
- Following up and maintaining the quality of after-care. Electronic transfer of health records and telemedicine practices are helping to support the seamless coordination between patients and physicians, wherever they might be.
- Investment in medtech. At last, carefully run studies of health care costs provide metrics that identify and measure medtech benefits and ROI. These positive effects include fewer trips to inpatient facilities, shorter hospital stays and lower testing costs. Innovative delivery methods include patient-centered, acute hospital–level care at home and the Health Buddy telehealth programs.
But what about the trends to come? Panelists gave attendees a sneak peek into the medical IT future.
Looking at a Medtech-Driven Health care Future
Medtech already solves healthcare delivery, cost control and coordination problems. But there’s more in the IT-based healthcare future.
- Technology will make healthcare global. This has already started with early adoption of medical travel. Development of secure, Internet-based communications, sophisticated consumers and high-quality overseas medical care make medical travel and international healthcare possible and attractive.
- Medical education for the elderly becomes a standard part of healthcare. Members of the aging Baby Boom generation are putting serious financial pressure on the healthcare system. These strains make it more important that elderly patients understand the total cost of care and learn about less expensive healthcare options.
- Health care delivery will change from provider- to patient-centered culture. Patients won’t just use technology to reach physicians they trust. They’ll insist on it. And IT will help them do it. The question is how to integrate technology with established methods of care to get desired outcomes.
- Competing institutions will compete on the basis of the medtech they use and the benefits that it delivers to patients.
- Data analytics will help improve healthcare delivery and outcomes. Mining and analyzing huge volumes of EMR data will give health caregivers a better understanding of who they are serving (demographics), how well their services worked (medical outcomes) and who is most likely to benefit from specific treatments (predictive profiling).
Medtech will never replace human healthcare providers. But it can replace time-consuming processes and ensure that patient records are complete, accurate and up-to-date. An essential part of this future is the leadership of physicians, who will implement changes and lead the charge.
Telemedicine for US and Global Medical Travelers
For medical travelers and international healthcare providers, an IT-driven healthcare future can’t come soon enough. There’s already a growing demand for medical travel services, including:
- Primary care
- Specialist referral services
- Remote patient monitoring
- Pre-treatment exams or consultation
- Follow-up and after-care
- Coordinated care between providers at home and overseas.
In the U.S. telemedicine has become part of ongoing operations of hospitals, specialty clinics, home health agencies and private physicians’ offices. Medical travel resources would extend these services to travelers worldwide.
There are very few online tools that help individuals with detailed knowledge of their medical condition find and interact with overseas doctors. But that’s not the last word. Innovative healthcare institutions are developing online methods that open the door to two-way, doctor-patient conversations and easy data discovery for medical travelers.
Next Time: Forward-looking healthcare providers worldwide are developing information portals that enable international medical travel. Find out how they do it and how you can, too.