US Health Care and Health Tech Innovation
By: Astrid F. Kowlessar
On March 28, 2019 District of Columbia’s Judge John Bates made a decision to dismiss the US Labor Department’s association health plan (AHP) rule. The AHP rule allows small businesses the affordability to pool together and provide health plans for employees in a competitive landscape. Judge Bates, however, saw the rule as an initiative to avoid Obamacare regulations. Once again, competition and choice in healthcare has been denied US small businesses, the backbone of national employment. The question now begs: if we cannot come to a workable decision on providing transparent health insurance options to the American people, how will we move forward on improving healthcare? The cost of US healthcare is predicted to reach 20% of GDP by 2025. We need to do better.
According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, healthcare expenditures have skyrocketed from $28 billion to $2.6 trillion over the past 50 years. US taxpayers are bearing the brunt of this increase, with no foreseeable solution coming forth to mitigate the burden. The remedy here is not to block competitiveness in health insurance services, but to increase health technology in our nation’s hospitals, health centers and clinics. We need to become proactive: that is to say, not throw valuable insurance money after reactive, outdated medical facilities and treatments, but invest in the latest preventative, diagnostic and reporting technologies to foster transparency and innovation. As stated in HP’s Megatrends, we need to “shift from standardized, reactive and centralized care to personalized, preventative, decentralized…care for all US citizens” through health technology.
First, let us clarify what health technology entails. Health technology refers to all advancements in procedures which improve both the quality and cost of providing healthcare to individuals and communities. The National Information Center on Health Services Research and Healthcare Technology (NICHSR) lists the following highlights that create a health technology demand:
- Increasing prevalence of chronic diseases
- Advances in science and engineering
- Aging populations (baby boomers)
- Increasing prevalence of chronic diseases
- Third-party payment, especially fee-for-service payment
- Financial incentives of technology companies, clinicians, hospitals, and others
- Off-label use of drugs, biologics, and devices
- Strong, growing economies
The United States fits all of the above requirements, and then some. The Trump administration has been on the frontline to advance health tech, starting with electronic health records (EHR). The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the MyHealthEData initiative in 2018. This program is supported by the White House Office of American Innovation, as well as the National Institutes of Health and Veterans Affairs, among others. MyHealthEData shall give electronic access of all health records to patients and allow patients to choose providers based on cost and accuracy transparency. Patients will be able to share their data with whichever provider they choose. This is a revolutionary concept in healthcare! According to Jared Kusher, President Trump’s advisor, the Administration is working diligently to solve the interoperability of health data within the nation’s healthcare institutions. Prior administrations have spent over $36 billion with no clear results in fully digitizing or maintaining the accuracy of health records. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn and Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee supports the Administration’s interagency HER plan, stating an impact on over 125 million US patients. We are comforted to see such federal initiatives be redirected to solve transparency and cost issues within healthcare.
The US healthcare industry is geared to be most impacted by Industry 4.0. As delineated by HP’s Megatrends, digital technologies such as 3D printing and emerging technologies such as augmented reality haptic holography, microfluids and autonomous robotic caretakers are now a reality, and benefits both provider and patient alike when mainstream.
- 3D printing has been introduced to many large private US hospitals, and is making strides in lowering the cost of customized diagnostic devises and patient implants. 3D printing can actually mass produce the hospital buildings as well as customized instruments, tools and medication needed for patients.
- Haptic Hologram technology is no longer science fiction. This new augmented reality software converts 2D medical imaging such as MRI scans into virtual reality images. Why is this important? This technology allows the surgeon to do a holographic pre-run of surgery on the actual patient without dissection! So, when the actual procedure begins, the diagnosis, time and accuracy of surgery will be dramatically increased.
- Microfluidics is described as “an entire lab on a tiny microchip.” The tiny microchips give a full diagnosis the patient using a minute sample of patient fluid. The process is not invasive, has a lower test cost and are perfect for point-of-care (POC) tests for urban and rural populations.
- Artificial intelligence in geriatric health care sector is on the upward trend. AI makes hospices “smart” to actually providing individualized robot caretakers that can immediately detect health changes in the elderly patient.
These technologies are already in use and are being further developed by companies such as HP and IBM, with support from large private healthcare institutions via innovation labs. While many may initially believe these technologies to be expensive to implement, we recall that prior administrations have spent billions of dollars on health care ‘reform’ with little change in our healthcare crisis.
From a policy standpoint we applaud the White House Office of American Innovation and the Health and Human Services department for currently moving forward with the Administration’s interagency plan to improve electronic health records interoperability, and suggest working with such agencies as the National Information Center on Health Services Research and Healthcare Technology (NICHSR) on emerging technology assessments innovation labs to make US healthcare technology the most innovative and accessible to US citizens. The US healthcare insurance reform is currently in legal bottleneck to the detriment of the American people. It’s time to refocus time and financial energy on augmenting our actual healthcare institutions to provide the most beneficial, accurate and transparent healthcare through health tech innovation.
- Bella, Timothy “Clearly an end-run’: Federal judge rejects Trump’s health-care plan to go around Obamacare .” The Washington Post Online. 2019.
- Bolwell, Andrew. “How tech is transforming healthcare.” Megatrends by HP online. 2019.
- Boyd, Aaron. “Kushner Announces ‘Whole of Government’ Plan To Improve Health Tech.” Nextgov online. 2018.
- Goldstein, Phil. “Trump Administration Aims for User-Friendly Electronic Health Records.” HealthTech Online. 2018.
- Goodman, Clifford S. “HTA 101: Introduction to Health Technology Assessment.” NICHSR via US National Library of Medicine online. 2018.