“21st century businesses will rely on American science, technology, research and development. I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine - one that delivers the right treatment at the right time.”
– President Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, January 20, 2015.
Well, it’s official – 2015 has only just begun and already it’s being declared by some as the year of healthcare technology. On the back of a record setting 2014 for money raised and invested in healthcare IT, many in the industry are predicting an even more robust 2015.
In the State of the Union address, President Obama supported these predictions by announcing the establishment of the Precision Medicine Initiative – an effort that aims to utilize healthcare technology to deliver more effective treatment regimens through emerging technologies like genome mapping, big data analytics and personalization. It is clear now that from the very top of the government, technology is expected to be the driver in changing the face of healthcare in the United States
Related Read: The Cost of Drug Safety
In a recent front page Wall Street Journal article, Dr. Eric Topol detailed and extoled the virtues of these emerging technologies and their potential impact on patient health and system costs. For those of us in the business, it’s no surprise to read about Dr. Topol’s enthusiasm for healthcare technology.
So, it’s going to be an exciting year for healthcare technology!! Woo-hoo!
We have made some advances ourselves: RxOutcome - A New Paradigm in Drug Safety
I guess that’s the end of this post.
Except… there are a couple of major issues on the horizon that I see as potential stumbling blocks to the unfettered healthcare technology revolution everyone is envisioning over the next couple of years.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Topol properly touched on both in his WSJ article. In it he stated:
“Even as we’re making great strides in capturing personal medical information….we’re also pathetic at data analytics: We tend to hoard big data and have done relatively little to extract meaningful information from it. To make matters even more complicated, none of the new patient-generated data—from sensors, lab tests, self-exams, DNA sequencing or auto-imaging—is flowing into the traditional hospital- or doctor-owned electronic health records.”
His first point – that all of these new applications will be great at generating data, but will do little to foster meaningful population-wide information and analysis – is solvable. There are many firms, like ours, focused on deriving meaningful insight from available data and I expect that we’ll see many more new and existing data companies putting effort into aggregating and analyzing elements of this new tidal wave of data in the years ahead.
The bigger concern, and the one that is a lot harder to solve, is how we get analytics and information to flow to practitioners and other key decision makers. Dr. Topol mentions the need for these new data to better interact with electronic health records and, while he’s right, he’s also too myopically focused.
The bigger issue is the quantum technology gap that exists between what the healthcare technologists are building and what the traditional medical establishment can ingest and use.
What do I mean? Let me give you a real-world example.
Even though most of the open source and widely used programming languages used today are geared toward Chrome and Firefox , we at AdverseEvents, made a conscious decision to program our first web application using HTML 5 because that is the modern programming language that works for Windows and Internet Explorer -- the systems that most payers and providers utilize. Yet, despite all of this forethought, we missed a major technology hurdle.
Many of the large hospital systems and insurers are still running Windows XP with Internet Explorer 8, which won’t work with HTML 5. How outdated are these browsers? Microsoft itself has stopped supporting Internet Explorer 8 and Windows XP and told all customers to upgrade. That upgrade process is slow and for most healthcare institutions it hasn’t even begun. Now, there are some quick fixes that can be performed, but those require a user to download a plug-in or different browser, or simply initiate a quick upgrade. Unfortunately, none of those solutions are allowed in a big multi-site medical center.
For technologists, this may all sound ridiculous, but the enterprise clients do what they do for good reason. If you want to read more on the topic, this article goes into in great detail.
This presents a basic infrastructure problem – and I’m concerned that most in our industry haven’t figured it out yet. Just like you wouldn’t build a 5-story apartment building on a foundation originally designed for a 1-story house, we can’t easily build modern technology apps to run on outdated operating systems.
So, what does this have to do with 2015 and the year of healthcare technology?
Simply this – I expect a lot of positive developments in our industry this year, but for all of these new-fangled applications (mobile and web) to really reach their maximum potential, they need to work within the traditional centers of care.
And for that to happen, there needs to be a system-wide technology awakening at those sites. Unfortunately, making that happen is going to be a slow and expensive process. And it may even end up only happening with a requirement (or an incentive) from the government.
Until a key healthcare decision maker can perform the same basic technology tasks in her professional environment that we all take for granted in our personal lives, the utility of all of the new healthcare technologies coming to market will be largely mitigated. And that will stall out the momentum everyone is expecting in this industry over the next couple of years.
Will this technology gap be solved? Of course it will. The questions are how long will it take, how much will it cost, and who is going to foot that bill.