Can Technology Help Healthcare?

I’ve been thinking lately about the state of the healthcare system in the United States.  More and more of the doctors that I know are unhappy practicing medicine – and for good reason.  The profession that they worked so hard to join has instead turned into a business.  Technology has been applied to cut costs, by measuring the speed at which doctors and other medical professionals work.  The professionals are frustrated with the pressure to see more and more patients in each day, rather than having the luxury of taking however much time is needed to get to know each patient and that patient’s needs.

Inside the medical office, more and more time and energy goes into fighting with insurance companies.  The insurance companies have applied technology to identify questionable treatment decisions.  They are using their wide reach to collect cost data from different practices and applying their conclusions to all.  And they have devised workflow systems designed to hold onto payments for as long as possible, maximizing the profits that they can earn on that cash.  From the doctors’ point of view, insurance companies seem to use technology to second-guess the need for treatments, cut what they are willing to pay, and delay the payments that they do make.

Patients are also unhappy.  As technology has replaced people in medical offices and clinics, patients find it difficult to schedule an appointment when necessary.  As clinics grow and specialists increase, patients seem to never see the same doctor twice, and feel like specimens to be studied rather than humans to be treated.  Plus, those same technologies that insurance companies use to squeeze costs with doctors seem to patients to have been created purely to deny or deny claims, while insurance seems to cover a smaller and smaller portion of the costs of seeing a doctor and prices go higher and higher.

Hospitals and clinics see their costs going up and up as they struggle to comply with ever-more well-meaning regulations and the increased costs of delivering new, cutting-edge (and expensive) care that is now possible due to new medical technologies.  Plus, they find more and more patients whose insurance is inadequate or completely without insurance coverage.

And to cap things off, we have a severe shortage of health care professionals:  doctors, nurses, technicians, etc. to care for our population as it ages.

How did our medical system get to the point that everyone involved is so unhappy?  At least a part of what has “broken” our health care system is the application of technology in ways that has dehumanized the system for everyone involved.

It makes me wonder whether technology can return some humanity into the system.

I’m beginning to work with a group – medical professionals, technology gurus, communications experts – to see if we can come up some ways to improve the system.  I’ll share more as appropriate.



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