Technology’s Growing Impact on the Healthcare System

    About three years ago, IBM built a supercomputer named Watson that could beat the best humans at Jeopardy. Shortly after its impressive reveal, Watson is being used to make better diagnoses and recommend treatments for doctors. As our world becomes more interconnected, one element within the medical industry grows ever more influential: technology. Not only has spending on technology increased, but the impact technology has on other stakeholders has also become more pronounced. From automation to digitization of patient information, technology will drastically improve  efficiency within the current healthcare system, while reducing  human involvement and subsequently the occurrence of human errors within medicine to a more limited degree.

    Information technology has become more commonplace in recent years within the American medical industry. In 2008, a mere 9.4% of hospitals were equipped with a basic electronic health records (EHR) system. In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) signed by President Obama included a provision called the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). This provision provided $30 billion dollars of incentives for hospitals and physicians through Medicare and Medicaid programs to utilize EHR systems. Six years later, we’ve seen an eight-fold increase in EHR systems utilization at 75.5%, and 96.9% of hospitals now possess certified EHR technology.

    A study on costs of patient admissions shows that EHR adoption has resulted in lower costs. Hospitals with advanced EHR systems on average saved about 10% in costs compared to hospitals without such systems. Aggregate healthcare in the United States amount to $2.3 trillion dollars annually, with administrative costs accounting for approximately 31%. EHR systems enable hospitals to simplify the paperwork, while streamlining the billing process, which reduces the amount of labor needed to process cases. McKinsey Global Institute projects that an effective use of this information via cognitive systems could reducing total US healthcare expenditure by about 8%.

    In addition to costs, technology has enabled the medical industry to save time. Medical diagnostics and decision making has become more routine and standardized. In recent years’ medical data has exploded however much of this remains unstructured. Cognitive systems like IBM’s Watson is able to process and interpret this data at 200 million pages in one second, enabling medical professionals identify and treat illnesses much faster. Whereas it may have taken doctors weeks to identify drugs targeting cancer-causing mutations, new cognitive systems like Watson can do it in minutes.

Because cognitive systems are able to process data at an accelerated rate, diagnostics and information analysis has become more efficient and effective. Watson was credited with over a 90% accurate treatment prescription rate for cancer, while doctors were credited as only being 50% accurate. Utilizing Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE), a system of doctors inputting orders electronically as opposed to writing on paper, also enables a reduction in medical errors by providing recommendations and checking treatment proscription. In one study, serious error rates fell by 55%, and in another they fell by 83%. Errors can range from simple mistakes like providing the wrong prescription due to similar sounding pronunciations, to potentially fatal errors by exhausted doctors providing the wrong amount of medication, can all be more easily prevented with a CPOE system.

    Naturally, other stakeholders are being affected as a result of these impacts by the rise of technology within the health industry. As EHR becomes more utilized, the centralization of information will reduce the need for administrative services. Connecting EHR systems with Health Information Exchanges (HIE) would result in savings in two ways. Firstly, it would reduce administrative costs, and secondly, it would decrease the amount of redundant tests. This reduces the total need for administrative staff, and will likely lead to a reduction in this specific workforce. Additionally, as cognitive systems continue to improve, certain types of medical specialists will also become obsolete. IBM’s Watson is a target of investment by the health industry in order to fight cancer. As mentioned earlier, while personalized treatment recommendations may take doctors many weeks, Watson is able to create in minutes “personalized treatments for every cancer patient by comparing disease and treatment histories, genetic data, scans and symptoms against the vast universe of medical knowledge.” While companies maintain they do not seek to replace physicians, fewer physicians will be needed to treat more patients as Watson and similar cognitive systems are developed.

Not only have the advances in technology made it easier to sort information, the rise in robotics can replace some skills altogether. With development of machines now being tested to perform anesthesiology during surgery, replacement of certain specializations such as anesthesiologists is inevitable.

    As expected, there are concerns about the increased use of technology in healthcare, which is historically the realm of experienced, discretionary human decision makers. Groopman highlights the worry that clinical algorithms will be rigid and incapable of thinking outside the box in dealing with patients, which can undermine the care given to patients. However, the rapid development of cognitive systems in recent years had enabled software to make intuitive leaps and provide more effective solutions. Furthermore, these systems are heavily tested and do not have biases that affect humans. Certainly technology in the health field is still a relatively new, and with that comes hesitation toward adopting this new technology. However, moving forward two to three decades, it will become more culturally accepted, just like computers for the millennial generation.

    Technology is evolving at an exponential rate. The creation and usage of new information is growing faster than ever, with 90% of all information today being created in the last two years. The health care system like everything else is being changed by technology. We are at a juncture point between an old system and a new one that is much more integrated with technological advances with less decision-making by humans. There will be concerns with reliability and societal acceptance; however the benefit—ranging from lowered costs and increased efficiency, to an increase in lives saved—makes technology an inevitably more significant stakeholder in the U.S healthcare system over the next few decades.

 

Appendix

  1. 3 Peer-reviewed articles

Bates, David W. "Using Information Technology to Reduce Rates of Medication Errors in Hospitals." British Medical Journal 320 (n.d.): n. pag. National Center for Biotechnology Information. British Medical Journal, 18 Mar. 2000. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.

Henry, Regina, and Santosh Venkatraman. "Big Data Analytics The Next Big Learning Opportunity." Academy Of Information & Management Sciences Journal 18.2 (2015): 17-29. Business Source Complete. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

Khurshid, Anjum, Mark L. Diana, and Susan D. Luce. “Health Information Exchange: Metrics to Address Quality of Care and Return on Investment.”Perspectives in Health Information Management / AHIMA, American Health Information Management Association 9.Summer (2012): 1e. Print.

 

  1. Works Cited – Including the articles above

 

Bates, David W. "Using Information Technology to Reduce Rates of Medication Errors in Hospitals." British Medical Journal 320 (n.d.): n. pag. National Center for Biotechnology Information. British Medical Journal, 18 Mar. 2000. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.

Cha, Ariana E. "Watson's next Feat? Taking on Cancer." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 27 June 2015. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

Charles, Dustin, Meghan Gabriel, and Talisha Searcy. Adoption of Electronic Health Record Systems among U.S. NonFederal Acute Care Hospitals: 2008-2014. Rep. Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Apr. 2015. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

Frankel, Todd C. "‘We Are Convinced the Machine Can Do Better than Human Anesthesiologists’." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 15 May 2015. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.

Groopman, Jerome E. How Doctors Think. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007. Print.

Henry, Regina, and Santosh Venkatraman. "Big Data Analytics The Next Big Learning Opportunity." Academy Of Information & Management Sciences Journal 18.2 (2015): 17-29. Business Source Complete. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

Hoyt, Robert E., Ann Yoshihashi, and Nora J. Bailey. Health Informatics: Practical Guide for Healthcare and Information Technology Professionals. Raleigh, NC: Lulu.com, 2012. Print.

Kazley, Abby S., Annie N. Simpson, Kit N. Simpson, and Ron Teufel. "Association of Electronic Health Records With Cost Savings in a National Sample | Page 3." Association of Electronic Health Records With Cost Savings in a National Sample | Page 3. The American Journal of Managed Care, 27 June 2014. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

Khurshid, Anjum, Mark L. Diana, and Susan D. Luce. “Health Information Exchange: Metrics to Address Quality of Care and Return on Investment.”Perspectives in Health Information Management / AHIMA, American Health Information Management Association 9.Summer (2012): 1e. Print.

Manyika, James, Michael Chui, Brad Brown, Jacques Bughin, Richard Dobbs, Charles Roxburgh, and Angela H. Byers. "Big Data: The next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity." Big Data: The next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity. McKinsey Global Institute, May 2011. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.

Mesko, Bertalan. "10 Ways Technology Will save Your Life." CNN. Cable News Network, 25 Feb. 2014. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

Reuters, Lauren F Friedman and. "IBM's Watson Computer Can Now Do in a Matter of Minutes What It Takes Cancer Doctors Weeks to Perform." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 05 May 2015. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

Upbin, Bruce. "IBM's Watson Gets Its First Piece Of Business In Healthcare." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 8 Feb. 2013. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.