The Health Tech We Knew We Needed but Never Got Around to Having

The time has long past for policy makers to make health tech a focus and priority

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, physicians say, by a margin of 2 to 1, that the increased use of heath information technology is a positive for overall quality of care.  As has been demonstrated on multiple occasions, infusing technology in healthcare can also save money and provide great benefits to patients beyond better health outcomes, such as limiting the need for the elderly travel to a doctor’s office for a routine visit or keeping those who are better convalescing at home in place.

Yet where greater use of health technologies is concerned consumers often seem to be promised big advances and told of coming innovations only to see that they are actually years away from being real. That is to say, despite a clear indication of its value, the implementation seems to be delayed or even simply fail to materialize. Just one example is the ever-elusive promise of electronic health records.

Electronic health records have long been considered a key element in moving a significant portion of the health care system into the digital age. While use of such records is growing and becoming more manageable, any number of delays, including government and process issues, have significantly slowed their broader use. Increased amounts of work, cost and a persistent lack of interoperable systems have been cited for more than a decade as significant challenges. Successful use of such records should streamline work and provide better care for patients, including better diagnostic tools that may have provided some early warning signs of a pandemic.

These days everyone is thinking about their health as COVID-19 is a constant presence in the media. This focus may help increase attention on how health technology could be helping people.

With COVID-19 overwhelming parts of the nation’s health system doctors have been innovating, looking for help in how to allocate resources. One approach has been to turn to Fitbit or Apple Watch as a means for patients to self-monitor heart rates and activity. But more could be done.

If interconnected with a primary care physician’s office, such knowledge could provide additional resources and knowledge for all the participating patients, if not for that community. For example, many people’s total steps taken were to drastically drop off one might conclude that something is awry, especially if coupled with a higher heart rate.

Other wearables can track a person’s temperature. A patient’s temperature tracking information voluntarily shared routinely with a physician could be combined with others information to provide a doctor with an early warning system of sorts.

The sophistication of such technology will only get better and will ultimately be able to track even more body diagnostics. While always being keenly aware of the privacy implications and challenges of such technologies, voluntarily used with the information being gathered by physicians could provide much more rapid response to emerging problems.

The time has long past for policy makers to make health tech a focus and priority. Localities, states and the federal government should all take the steps necessary to clear the way for the full use of health care technologies. If we learn no other lesson from this pandemic, we will hopefully learn that better communication and technology could have been brought to bear if only we had got around to having what we knew we needed.

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