Health IT has the power to transform healthcare by increasing access, improving quality and lowering costs, but the industry has moved slowly to adopt the types of transformative technology that have revolutionized other industries and policymakers need to begin taking the lead, according to an August report from the Global Health Policy Summit.
“Digital innovation has the potential to unlock similar value in healthcare,” the report read. “It can expand access to health services and improve their quality and productivity; it can equip patients with the tools to manage their own health and well-being; and it can lend new energy to public health initiatives.”
Consider how agriculture has changed since the early 1900s, when families worldwide spent around 40 percent of their budgets on food and developed nations devoted 30 percent of their workforces to producing it. Now, only about 10 percent of families’ budgets are devoted to food and 2 percent of developed nations’ workforces are employed in the industry. “These changes came about not because of countries rationing food, but rather because the agricultural sector applied technology to reengineer the production and delivery of food,” the report read.
To move health IT forward, the report suggests that policymakers follow six broad principles.
- Make health IT a priority. Set a direction for health IT, commit to it and communicate it. Policymakers must also be willing to make investments that support health IT, whether to develop infrastructure or foster innovation.
- Engage in broad debates on data privacy. There are benefits to sharing information, but the appropriate balance between patient confidentiality and legal protections need to be put in place to protect patients from unauthorized use of health information.
- Break barriers that prevent patients from participating in their own health. Patients should not only have access to their personal health information, they should be given a platform that allows them to share their input on healthcare.
- Reform reimbursement models. Various reimbursement mechanisms can impede the ability of health IT to address the issues of cost, quality and access. The financial incentives for payers and providers need to be aligned, and outcome-based payments could stimulate health IT adoption.
- Update regulatory frameworks. These should be adjusted to reflect different levels of risk from health IT tools, which are often low risk.
- Support the collection and storage of evidence-based data. Clinical protocols should be standardized to rely on procedures based on proven positive outcomes.
Governments and their leaders must take on more of the responsibility for promoting health IT, the report concluded. “It is not enough to build better medical equipment and develop new therapies. The challenge for the 21st century is to reengineer the way that healthcare is produced and delivered. Innovation from digital and social media is part of the answer, but there is only so much that innovators, providers and patients can do on their own.”