August 2, 2009

Health Care Reform is Technologically Deficient

The debate on the news, in the streets, and on the Hill these days is health care reform—getting insurance coverage for those who lack it. And while this is an important and noble pursuit, there is something extraordinary absent from the health care reform discussion—and that is technology—in terms of how we get better care to everyone, the uninsured and insured alike?

We are living with a health care system that is functioning devoid of the most basic technology aids—such as electronic medical records, electronic scheduling, e-appointments with doctors using IM or video, electronic prescription handling, and much more.

If the finance industry is at the advanced end of the technology spectrum, the medical industry is at the extreme low end—and how sad a commentary is that: is our money more important to us than our health?

An article in Fast Company in May 2009 called “The Doctor of the Future” states: “This is a $2.4 trillion industry run on handwritten notes. We’re using 3,000 year-old tools to deliver health care in the richest country on the planet.”

The health care system is broken for sure, but it goes way beyond the 45 million American’s that lack insurance.

  • “Health care accounts for $1 in every $6 spent in the United States.”
  • “Costs are climbing at twice the rate of inflation.”
  • “Every year, an estimated 1.5 million families lose their homes because of medical bills.”
  • “Although we have the word’s most expensive health-care system, 24 counties have a longer life expectancy and 34 have a lower infant-mortality rate.”

Based on these numbers, the medical industry in this country is overcharging and under-delivering, and part of the reason for this–as Fast Company states is the lack of technological innovation: one of the paradoxes of modern medicine is that it demands continual innovation yet often resists change.”

New medical technology programs are available that provide for a vastly improved patient experience.

For example, using the Myca platform the user-experience is simpler, faster, and cheaper. Here’s a view of how it would work: “your profile shows your medical team…to make an appointment, you look at the doctors schedule, select a time slot or at least half an hour and the type of appointment (in-person, video, IM), and fill out a text box describing your ailment so the doctor can start thinking about treatment. Typically follow ups are e-visits. A timeline doted with icons representing appointments lets you review the doctors comments, read the IM thread, watch the video of an earlier electronic house call or link t test results.”

Using other technological advances, we could also benefit the patient by being able to:

  • Send electronic prescriptions to the pharmacy and automatically check for drug interaction.
  • Enter a patient’s symptoms and test results and get a comprehensive software generated diagnosis along with the probability of each result as well as other pertinent tests for the doctor to consider.
  • Provide electronic medical records that can be shared securely with medical providers including medical history, exam notes, tests ordered and results, and drugs prescribed.
  • Utilize telemedicine for consultation with medical providers anywhere and anytime.
  • And even apply robots to surgical procedures that result in less invasive, more effective, quicker recovery rates, and with less chance of infection.

None of this is science fiction…and this is all possible today.

Therefore, if we are going to call for a revamp to our health care system, let’s go beyond the coverage issue and address the logjam on quality of care for all Americans.

Absolutely we need to address the 18% uninsured in this country, but while we do that and figure out how to pay for it, let’s also deal with providing 21st century care to all our citizens through the modernization of our medical industry benefitting both the patients and medical providers through more efficient and effective care-giving.


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