The U.S. healthcare industry is notoriously slow when it comes to adopting change and technology is no exception. The federal government catalyzed healthcare’s adoption of technology when it passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in 2009, stimulating the adoption of information technology (IT), mainly electronic health records (EHRs), through incentive payments. Since that time, EHRs have gained widespread adoption, with the Office of the National Coordinator finding that nearly all (96%) of acute care hospitals in the United States adopting a certified EHR technology from 2008 – 2015.
While widespread EHR implementation is encouraging, one must ask if the adoption of health IT has helped achieve the true goal of the HITECH Act? Is patient care more affordable, safer, and of a higher quality? I would argue that while imperfect, Health IT has, at least in part, helped providers improve patient care and reduce costs. Here are three ways technology has benefited healthcare.
1. Improved Care Coordination
Improving coordination has been a focus of healthcare for some time, being a cornerstone of The Joint Commission’s National Patient Safety Goals program and part of meaningful ise attestation. Despite receiving increased attention, care coordination, particularly during transitions of care, continues to challenge organizations, leading to substandard care quality and safety. A report from the Center for Healthcare Research & Transformation cites that poorly coordinated care transitions from hospitals to other care settings cost between $12 billion and $44 billion and contribute to poor health outcomes, such as harm caused by medication errors, procedure complications, infections, and falls. Fortunately, advances in technology have the potential to help improve communication among providers and reduce errors at care transitions.
Innovative IT companies have launched a variety of solutions in response to the growing demand for assistance with care transitions. Some of these technologies are standalone systems and apps developed specifically to aid in the transition of care while others are packaged in with other offerings to assist in addressing broader issues, such as communication, education, and medication adherence.
2. Improved Population Health Management
Population health is a relatively new concept and can be defined as “the health outcome of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes with the group.” According to an article published by Barton Associates, population health is dependent on data. “Without data on the [health] populations you serve," Evan Wade of Barton Associates writes, "any population health initiatives become educated guesses at best.” An article published by Health Data Management, citing a survey by West Corp., noted that 35% of all respondents, which included hospital and health system providers, physicians and other medical professionals, indicated that they did not have adequate access to clinical data from disparate systems.
Recent innovations in technology help collect and analyze large amounts of patient data to drive improvements in population health initiatives. In a previous post, we discussed the potential application that blockchain has in healthcare. From a population health perspective, blockchain has the potential to allow every patient to easily and securely share their health information anywhere they go, providing health systems and health information exchanges the accurate information they need to better assess and improve the health of populations.
3. Improved Patient Education
Not too long ago, patient education relied primarily on written materials about disease processes, medication, medical management, and self-care instruction guidelines. Today, the Internet and mobile technology have made health information available to patients anywhere.
Innovations in telemedicine now make it possible for patients to access a care professional whenever they need one. New education formats, such as interactive walkthroughs, educational videos, and text reminders, give patients options through which they can consume health information and become more engaged in their care.
Furthermore, improved functionality in existing technologies, such as patient portals, can present customized health education information to patients based on their specific needs and conditions.
With patient education taking on an increasingly important role in healthcare, it comes as no surprise that most physicians are embracing technologies that can help better inform and engage patients. According to the results of a recent survey of 200 U.S. physicians conducted by PatientPoint and Digital Health Coalition, more than 75% of physicians believe that leveraging patient education and engagement technology can help improve the patient experience. Furthermore, 95% of respondents reported that they were currently using engagement technology tools to educate and engage with patients.
According to Digital Health Coalition Executive Director Christine Franklin, in a news release about the survey results, "Our data confirm that physicians see technology as a valuable part of their practice of medicine. They see, understand, and most importantly are excited about how future innovations in the space are poised to transform how they interact with and educate patients."