From the rise of digitized health records to the increasing trend toward patient tele-monitoring, it is clear that a healthcare technology revolution has taken place in nearly every stage of the healthcare system.
Yet the 2010 passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (HCERA), included some mandated changes that affect the healthcare IT market, sowing a good amount of anxiety and confusion among consumers, healthcare-related businesses, and even among some practitioners. In March, for example, a national poll of physicians revealed that turnover rate among doctors reached an all-time high in 2012, 6.8 percent, considerably higher than the 2009 rate of 5.9 percent.
Changes in record-keeping and other aspects of patient care mandated by both PPACA and HCERA are in part leading to a greater sense of urgency about recent high turnover rates of physicians, according to the groups who conducted the physician survey, Cejka Search and the American Medical Group Association.
"The implementation of health care reform and changing demographics make efficient recruitment and effective retention paramount for medical groups," said Lori Schutte, president of Cejka Search.
"Delivering data and insight points the way toward best practices and drives our industry toward innovative solutions," Schutte said.
Innovations Face Implementation Hurdles
While challenges remain in regard to implementation of some of the mandates within the healthcare reform act--in particular for insurance carriers--a consensus among experts is shaping up: Innovations in healthcare technology can ulitmately improve patient care, access and help reduce costs for consumers and providers.
There are several key areas where IT advancements will have positive impact on how the healthcare reform act is implemented; there already are a few examples of how these advancements are taking shape, including:
- Digital data capture
- Digitized data analysis and cloud storage
- Electronic medical records
- Mobile apps for patient care coordination.
According to some healthcare technology experts, the speed of innovation in healthcare IT is already producing efficiencies in the overall system. The state, local, and Federal agencies that are currently grappling with changes to Medicare and Medicaid formulations under the new health care act should embrace existing healthcare IT innovations.
In addition, private and public hospital systems, along with governments, should support more healthcare IT advancements to aid the necessary streamlining of processes and create cost efficiencies, said Aneesh Chopra, Senior Advisor of Healthcare Technology Strategy at the Advisory Board. For instance,“Once a doctor has all the data they need, they could begin to look at how to best engage the patient in newer ways to improve their overall health outcomes. Technology tools could be used to collect patient monitoring data, and doctors could text or call patients instead of having them travel to the office,” Chopra said in an interview with Government Technology.
Indeed, Chopra suggests that eventually a healthcare techology version of an Apple iTunes store might be developed, providing patients and practitioners with a range of apps and services to enable a smoother delivery process of treatments, notifications, and updates.
"I envision an iPhone App Store scenario where patients download and use tech tools that support behavior change and help them make better health decisions," Chopra said. In some cases, hospitals are implementing initiatives in which patients use Smartphones to chronicle their health developments, and email them to their doctor for evaluations.
Room For Growth, Signs of Improvement
The areas of healthcare systems that are ripe for a technological makeover are numerous, but Chopra and other experts point to a few areas that are especially primed for IT upgrades, including:
- Eligibility determination
- Care coordination
- Practitioner-to-practitioner consultation.
Several states, including New York, are investing in programs designed to embed healthcare IT innovations into their systems and payment models. The state of New York has funded a think tank of sorts, the New York Digital Health Accelerator Program, with the sole purpose of encouraging tech advancements geared toward improving healthcare services and eliminating fiscal waste.
Currently, there are eight companies working under the auspices of the Accelerator, all focusing on software applications to improve notification alerts, care coordination, patient engagement, and other key parts of the delivery supply-chain. The companies have received grants totaling up to $300,000 to develop new products.
It may yet be too early for New York and other states to be able to fully grasp the full picture of how the healthcare reform act will impact their bottom lines. But Chopra and other healthcare IT experts, at least, are optimistic about the future.
"Technology alone will not change the health-care industry,” Chopra said. “But technology paired with a new business model has the ability to make that change.”
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