A Healthcare Revolution or Lack Thereof
As of 2017, reports indicate that nearly 9 in 10 (86%) of office-based physicians had adopted some form of Electronic Health Record software. This represents a long-awaited shift in healthcare from the safe yet outdated protocols of decades old traditions to a more modern healthcare rooted in technology.
One might have suspected that healthcare would be among the first industries to ride the waves of innovation provided by the technological revolution of the modern day, however healthcare seems hesitant to evolve. Digital consultation technologies were around for over a decade before mobile healthcare and digital doctor interactions became a thing. While Electronic Health Record software is being adopted in hospitals today, it represents a subtle shift into modernized healthcare, rather than the drastic evolutions that have occurred tangentially in similar markets. Why is this?
To answer this question, it is first crucial to have a solid understanding of healthcare IT, because this is where much, if not all, of healthcare innovation is occurring. So to predict the trajectory of healthcare evolution and why it’s falling short, healthcare IT is the operative concept.
What is Healthcare IT?
For the past couple centuries, and likely beyond, the basics of medical care have revolved around three foundational elements: evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment. Healthcare information technology, or healthcare IT for short, is the industry of employing technology to enhance or assist one of these three elements. Patient evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment have all seen improvements–but not at the rate of similar markets. And what advancements have been made required the nudging of government assistance.
In 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was passed to promote development of meaningful applications of healthcare IT. Essentially, the goal of healthcare IT over the past decade has been to make use of the seemingly endless amount of interdisciplinary patient data that physicians now had access to. For the first time in history, physicians were able to explore all components of a patient’s medical history–diet, exercise, medication history, diagnosis history–all at the click of a mouse.
The problem was that this required a massive re-education of physicians around the world, who had become accustomed to more traditional pen-and-paper methods of tracking patient health information. As all of this information moved into the digital realm, many physicians were hesitant to follow. The HITECH Act aimed to change all of that. But was it successful? Sort of.
The Towering Impediments to Healthcare IT Innovation
The HITECH Act was certainly successful in moving physicians and medical facilities over to digital healthcare record keeping, however it took nearly 10 years even with the assistance of the act. Moreover, digital record keeping is in many ways the bare minimum innovation of incorporating healthcare IT. Prominent studies from the National Library of Medicine have called for a medical school reform to better target the necessary learning outcomes of the present day. In other words, medical schools which are largely based on traditional learning principles are hesitant to incorporate what they perceive as fringe technology.
And yet this fringe technology is exactly where medical innovation is heading. So the reality of the situation today is that we have large groups of physicians and medical professionals, who believe that ‘best practices’ can not and should not be changed, regardless of whether the update is necessary.
On the other side of the issue, the financial risk of healthcare IT innovation is extremely high. When you view the trajectory of similar IT markets, you will see that many investments that are worth the risk in other markets, are just too risky in the healthcare industry. If for instance, engineering software were to show a bug, then certain productivity outcomes may not be met. If however, a healthcare software were to go down, then lives might be lost.
And so because of the rigidity of healthcare systems in regards to adapting new practices combined with the enormous financial risk of developing them in the first place, we see time and time again that when investment groups and innovators have the choice of going all-in on healthcare IT, they decide against it.
Metrology and the Forgotten Solution to Healthcare IT
With the advent of big data, one of the primary instruments of technological innovation is measurement. To extract the value of the endless streams of information made available by internet technology, we have to have systems to analyze said data. In simple terms, for instance, there may be increased value if you are able to determine that a walk around your neighborhood equates to 12,000 steps and X number of calories burned.
Metrology, or the study of measurement and its applications, is at the forefront of spurring on innovation in IT sectors. Metrology software for example is responsible for the explosion of digital shopping. The inventory management technology–that enables companies like Amazon to manage and track billions of items in simultaneous shipping routes around the world–relies on metrology software to function.
Companies like moxpage develop such software, so that shipment orders are able to provide real time data on productivity and item quality, so that food can travel from another continent to your kitchen table with minimal loss to quality–a task that would have been all but impossible years ago. So where is healthcare metrology, and the innovations waiting to be unearthed by it?
Unfortunately, according to reports the advances of healthcare IT metrology have been fairly limited to sectors of manufacturing. While experts suggest that the greatest evolutions of healthcare could come from employing metrology specifically to healthcare information technology, metrology is mainly being used to create healthcare equipment. Why? Because it is safest and most financially lucrative.
Healthcare IT Metrology and the Impending Revolution
To truly employ metrological innovations to healthcare IT would require the collaboration of various healthcare providers. It would require for instance for a patient’s nutritionist to share and update data streams with the patient’s psychiatrist, and for the psychiatrist to share information with the patient’s primary care physician, and vice versa.
After the HITECH Act, healthcare professionals certainly share patient history back and forth, but they do not participate in it actively. For instance, many individuals have likely been in the situation where their health records have had to be faxed over to a new office. In other words, patient health data is passed on from one facility to the next like the passing on of a torch.
The aim of the HITECH Act was for all medical professionals to actively hold up this torch at once, and actively participate in diving the underlying truths that could only be found by sharing various perspectives on the patient’s history. The problem with this is that this presupposes that these medical professionals share a world-view.
For instance, a holistic health coach might be totally at odds with your orthopedic surgeon. This is why the HITECH Act fell short. It relied too much on the active collaboration of healthcare professionals who will likely always harbor too many differences to ever make use of a universalized data system. But this problem is one that begs the intercession of metrology IT.
While individual healthcare professionals may not be able to agree, numbers and data are in their essential form, objective. It is only after we superimpose our preconceptions onto them that they become a subjective instrument subject to all the pitfalls of subjective interpretation. But thankfully, metrology IT can function to strip away this process of subjectification.
Advancements in healthcare metrology are aimed at creating new and innovative forms of diagnosis, assessment, and treatment–which take into account standardized data sets from various interdisciplinary angles. This was the missing piece of the HITECH Act, and it is finally coming into fruition, tardy as it is. Thus the long awaited healthcare revolution is on its way, spurred on by the unsung hero of healthcare metrology IT. Once this revolution arrives, we will see the day where there is only one data set for each patient, one stored in universal data sets made available to each medical professional, which in turn will also lessen the impact of human error and misinterpretation.
With healthcare being a leading issue in the 2020 presidential race, Americans can expect such future innovations to be given renewed attention, and hopefully such renewed attention will coax them into earlier fruition. The fact remains however, that much like how the internet inevitably led to email, the revolution of healthcare metrology–where individual medical data will be translated into universal data–is inevitable.
This article has been sponsored by Nosferdatum, LLC
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