The Double Edge of Technology

 

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By Patty Starr, President & CEO, Health Action Council

 
When was the last time you wrote down directions? What was the last phone number you memorized? What year did you last drop film off to be developed? When did you last sink a quarter into a payphone? 
 
Technology has made our lives efficient, increasing productivity across nearly every industry. It has created jobs where none previously existed, allowed us to work from home, and placed us in a position to collaborate anywhere, anytime, and under any circumstance.

Because it has helped us organize vast amounts of information while making it easily accessible and user friendly, it is a source of endless possibility and opportunity. In essence, technology is both the inspiration and engine driving our world forward. 
 
One industry where it continues to advance exponentially is healthcare. Amazing leaps have been made in fields like telehealth, pharmacogenomics, robotics and pharmaceuticals. These advancements and countless others have led to more accurate diagnoses and the development of appropriate treatment plans; the very personalization of better patient care. New technologies have saved and/or improved the lives of millions of patients while transforming the way healthcare is administered in the U.S.
 
But technology is a double-edged sword since not all of our advancements are without their drawbacks.

Think of the electronic medical record. On the surface, it seems like it’s a win-win for patent and provider alike. You have all of a patient’s medical information inputted into a digitalized system that is accessible by all interested stakeholders. You have the benefits of higher quality care when a doctor has all of a patient’s information in front of them and improved public health when researchers examine and develop insights from population-level data. However, the disadvantages of electronic health records are significant.
 
Like any digitalized source, electronic health records are vulnerable to cyberattacks. Furthermore, if there is any inaccurate or incomplete data within the record, any practitioner with access could be misdiagnosing or mistreating the patient. Such a systemic failure could be lethal. The electronic medical record is also extremely time-consuming. The most frustrating drawback though maybe the lack of interoperability across systems.
 
If we’ve learned anything though, it’s that time will resolve many of these issues. And for most emerging technologies, this is where we stand — on the precipice.

The last several years have seen nothing less than an explosion of new technologies across the healthcare space, most of them, like the electronic health record, yet to reach their full potential. From wearables that monitor steps to machine learning algorithms that note emotional changes in the user’s voice, the next generation of wearables will further bring about a new era of health benefits as more and more data is collected and analytical capabilities continue to advance. The insights from these devices have the potential to empower patients in addition to informing care teams.      
 
The opportunity for individuals to take charge of their own health has never been better. However, for those patients in need of care today, technologies like telehealth and remote monitoring are capable of managing episodes of patient care outside of a traditional clinic from beginning to end. Wearables will continue to play a role in remote patient monitoring along with implants, handhelds, and at-home diagnostic equipment.

Based on the type of data collected, providers can diagnose and treat individuals like they would in a traditional care setting and even extrapolate population-level data to better determine upstream intervention for those at risk. However good these services are though, they too have their drawbacks. Lacking the day-to-day patient details, those that exist outside of technology, providers could potentially miss important pieces of information typically gleaned from intuition and the human touch. This in turn could mark a missed chance to create a meaningful story for the patient, one they could take with them on their continued health journey.   
 
Although it is amazing, like most things, today’s health technology is a mixed bag of the good with the bad. If there is any one truth to bear in mind though as we move forward, it’s that everything will continue to change and evolve. Healthcare technologies will continue to get better, be more user friendly, and hopefully, assist us in living healthier lives. We will always have to balance the pros and cons of each new device, methodology or technique, but that’s true of almost anything in life. One of our many responsibilities as employers is that we must stay diligent in our demands that the double edge of technology be smoothed so that it benefits all stakeholders and above all, promotes and maintains human health. In doing so, we as employers will be at the forefront of this technological shift in inpatient care.

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Posted: 12/8/2020 7:55:40 PM
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