While you may think of technology in terms of the CT scanner, the advancements made in recent years in cardiac monitors, portable x-ray equipment, sonography, bedside lab testing, even IV needles are all part of how tech is improving healthcare.
Just ask the medical staff of inpatient and outpatient rehab centers. Point of care testing allows blood testing to be done at the bedside. Results for electrolytes, hemoglobin and hematocrit, glucose, blood gases and several other essential blood tests can be in the doctor’s hands in the time it used to take to run the blood to the lab.
Every discipline of medicine is evolving because of the changes in technology. First, there were x-rays then CT scans and MRIs. Now PET scans routinely diagnose very early cancers because they scan the body at a cellular level, often finding tiny areas of increased activity that wouldn’t show up on a CT scan or MRI. Speaking of pets, tech has helped improve the health of our dogs and cats. Whether simply treating a constipated dog or detecting cancer in a cat, the same image scans that serve to help people are being used to help their pets. Robotic surgery sounds like science fiction, but the discipline is gaining acceptance everywhere. Very small incisions have replaced long scars as surgeons control miniaturized instruments from a monitor with magnification that enables very precise work.
Even common health problems, such as diabetes and asthma, are affected by improved technology. Advanced diabetic pumps and monitors help to control blood sugars more exactly as well as improving the quality of life for many diabetics. The newer asthma inhalers deliver a more accurate dose and are easier to use, especially for elderly and young patients.
Computers connect health care agencies and allow researchers to gather data in real time. The diagnosis of a case of influenza or meningitis can be reported to the CDC within minutes to hours, helping to stop the spread of epidemics.
According to the Office of Coordination of National Health Information, 50 percent of healthcare dollars are wasted on inefficient processes. Transformative innovation must not only change the current way things are done, it must be disruptive by having a meaningful impact on time, quality, cost and operational effectiveness – it must dramatically simplify and accelerate the process it enables.
There are very exciting ways in which digital technology is creating transformation across the entire healthcare system in areas such as connected health, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, mobile data gathering, analytics, digital therapeutics and remote patient monitoring. All of these technological developments will improve healthcare efficiency, but more importantly they will drive the delivery of individualized care and dramatically improve patient outcomes as follows:
Access to Care
Connected health, or telehealth, is enabling the delivery of care to rural areas, where access is often nonexistent or very limited. It is also being used to address growing medical staff and physician shortages by providing access to timely care through collaborative tools such as eConsults. Telehealth delivers faster, less expensive and more convenient healthcare and in doing so significantly improves patient outcomes.
Conventional patient engagement systems display information at the hospital bedside, which is only one of many relevant ways to connect with patients. Companies are now integrating artificial intelligence or ‘virtual’ health coaches into interactive educational platforms, resulting in higher utilization and engagement, and delivering more robust, actionable content.
Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM)
A vast array of innovative wearables and sensors such as the biosensor bra patch, implantable glucose sensor, electronic tattoos and the cardiac mapping vest are revolutionizing remote monitoring capabilities. These remote monitoring systems have the potential to help achieve triple aim goals by leveraging the latest advancements to collect and analyze patient data beyond the bedside. Patients and providers can use smart phones, tablets and apps to remotely assess, diagnose and monitor their patients. Electronic monitoring can be an effective solution to identifying issues as they happen while also enabling more effective tracking of patients post-discharge, improving compliance and adherence, and reducing the number of re-admissions.
Yet effective January of this year, CMS instituted important changes to their reimbursement policies that encourage the use of digital health tools. Most significant among these changes is the un-bundling of the Medicare/Medicaid CPT code 99091, a decision that specifically affects the adoption and deployment of remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices. In the past, CMS has only offered financial incentives for live, audiovisual virtual visits, excluding RPM—and thus excluding a major demographic from the possibility of affordable and accessible care. With the un-bundling, financial incentives for RPM are not only available, but also are deployed across multiple providers, allowing nurses and care managers as well as physicians to analyze and monitor data, creating efficiencies and lowering costs.
But while the CPT un-bundling represents an important victory for RPM, it also serves to highlight the policy’s inadequacies and the large margin for growth. With the update, care providers no longer have to worry about fully funding RPM from their original operating budgets, but the reimbursement rate ($60 per patient per month) is still far too low to be effective in most cases. Other requirements, such as a prior wellness visit with the patient and a limit of one charge to the code per month, further restrict its effectiveness.
Perhaps most problematic, while the un-bundling will have an immediate positive impact on patients over the age of 65, a large patient demographic could be outside the bounds of its effects. Commercial plans are under no requirement to follow the updated CPT guidelines, and more importantly, neither is Medicaid. And while Medicaid is the smaller of the two government run-healthcare plans (compare Medicaid’s revenue of $565.5 billion to Medicare’s $672.1 billion), it is outpacing Medicare by 10 percent in rates of spending (increasing by 3.9 percent in 2016 compared to Medicare’s 3.3 percent).