Health IT Tech Trends: Will They Promote or Hinder #SocialChange for the Underserved?

Posted on January 26, 2016 by

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Will the biggest tech trends for Healthcare in 2016 promote positive #SocialChange or continue to widen the gap and access to healthcare for America’s underserved?

While we’re at the end of January we’re still at the beginning of a new year, and with the first page of the calendar often comes a slew of predictions for the year ahead. Among the more interesting predictions is a recent Tech Zulu article highlighting the “Top 5 Biggest Healthcare Trends for 2016.” The author highlights some typical, if not exciting trends for the year ahead:

  1. The Cloud
  2. Wearable Patient Technology
  3. 3-D Printing
  4. Social Media Engagement
  5. Virtual Healthcare

While none of these technologies are in their infancy, none of them have yet been completely realized in healthcare. The promise of their fruition is exciting for many manufacturers, healthcare providers, and patients…but is their promise for all patients? Is the continued implementation of Health IT widening the gap between quality healthcare and the underserved? In preparing for this week’s #SocialChange #SMChat, we dug deeper into each technology prediction.

  1. Cloud Technology: More healthcare groups are embracing cloud technology to upload patient data and enable access to EHRs. According to a recent article in TechZulu, in 2014 83 percent of healthcare organizations were already using Cloud technology for some of their processes, and that number is expected to continue growing through 2016 to improve patient care. Will increased reliance on cloud-based technology improve patient care? Are patients who are slower to adopt technology or with less access to the Internet, smartphones and other devices in danger of having less control over their medical information?
  2. Health Wearables: Twenty percent of Americans own some type of wearable device to track their health, yet 1/3 of them ditch the device after just 6 months. Manufacturers are turning to smartphone apps to boost prolonged usage through badges, rewards, coaching and other mechanisms to keep users around longer.Cross-reference this data with Pew Internet’s latest research on smartphone use in America, and some startling disparities begin to emerge. Two-thirds or 64% of American adults own some type of smartphone, with ownership being especially high among younger Americans and those with high income and education levels.Those with low levels of household incomes and low levels of education are smartphone dependent, i.e. their smartphones are the only means of Internet access available to them.On the surface, it seems then that creating smartphone apps to monitor health, in tandem with wearables, some of which cost $60 or less, could be beneficial to this segment of smartphone owners. However, to determine #SocialChange we need to scratch below the surface. According to Pew, smartphone-dependent users are less likely to have a bank account, and therefore have less access to making online payments for purchases, and are also less likely to have health insurance, even under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).Additionally, nearly half (48%) of smartphone-dependent Americans have had to cancel or shut off their cell phone service for a period of time because the cost of maintaining that service was a financial hardship. In addition, 30% of smartphone-dependent Americans say that they “frequently” reach the maximum amount of data that they are allowed to consume as part of their cell phone plan, and 51% say that this happens to them at least occasionally. Each of these figures is substantially higher than those reported by smartphone owners with more access options at their disposal. This population would have even more difficulty accessing, monitoring, and remaining engaged with their health information through wearables based on this data. If health wearable manufacturers rely on smartphone apps to boost usage, could the underserved be left even further behind?
  3. 3-D Printing: As costs go down, and materials become more accessible 3-D printing use will become more widespread in healthcare in 2016. Some of the breakthrough uses of 3-D printing in healthcare include the manufacturing of new organs, prosthetic limbs, new blood vessels, airway support and much more. The possibilities are mind-boggling, for everything from chronic disease treatments to traumatic interventions to creating inexpensive prosthetic hands for children. As inexpensive as 3-D printing has become, or should we say less expensive than other methods, the science is still being tested, and insurance is reluctant to cover its use. Furthermore, Medicaid covers even less and 23 states have not expanded their Medicaid coverage to benefit the underserved, even under the ACA. Yet risk of heart disease, chronic conditions and trauma is higher in the underserved populations than any other. Without financial assistance or expanded insurance coverage, will the promise of 3-D printing be out of reach for a population that could most benefit from its promise?
  4. Social Media Engagement and
  5. Virtual Healthcare: Numbers 4 and 5 accompany each other, as along with the predicted increase in healthcare wearable technology comes the desire by patients to crowd source symptoms, and track and interact with their wellness data. While there is a danger of replacing medical advice with Dr. Google, all of these activities are showing increases in preventive care adherence, as well as increases in fitness and well care, if only in six month increments. Yet, there are still prices to be paid for access, gym memberships, and the time for social networking. Are these advances being designed for all patients or merely those who can afford them?

During the January 27th #SMChat, we will offer each point outlined above for discussion as we look beyond the usual predictions for healthcare technology in 2016 to their implications for #SocialChange for all Americans. Questions for the chat will be presented in the following order:

Q1. Are patients who are slower to adopt or with less access to technology in danger of having less control over their medical information?
Q2. If health wearable manufacturers rely on smartphone apps to boost usage, could the underserved be left even further behind?
Q3. W/o financial assistance, will the promise of 3-D printing be out of reach for a population that could most benefit from its promise?
Q4. Are the advances of virtual healthcare + SoMe engagement designed for all patients or only those who can afford them?

As always we look forward to having you join us at 1pm ET every Wednesday for #SMChat!

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