OPINION

Steering Clear of the Cliff: How Innovation Can Help Heal Our Health Care System

America spends more on health care than any other nation in the world — $3.65 trillion in 2018 alone. Technology has the power to change this — giving patients customized care and more treatment options, while dramatically reducing costs and improving outcomes. 

These new health tech tools require collecting, storing and sharing data. And to support consumer adoption of these technologies, we need privacy laws that give consumers confidence and companies clear standards that enable them to offer life-changing products and services.

Some of us already use digital platforms to message our doctors, schedule appointments or check test results. But these benefits are just the beginning of what technology can accomplish. 

Advances in telehealth technology are connecting patients with doctors across the city and around the world, lowering health care costs by reducing in-person visits, reducing patient travel and providing immediate access to the best health information in the world. A study by the Duke University School of Medicine’s Duke Clinical Research Institute found that telehealth physical therapy reduced costs by nearly $2,750 per patient for post-discharge physical therapy after knee replacement surgery.

And soon, our doctors will integrate new technologies to provide us with precise, cutting-edge care. Benefits of remote patient monitoring include increased quality of life, fewer hospitalizations and emergency room visits, shorter hospital stays and a pathway to “aging in place” at home rather than in a facility.

For example, some medical providers already use monitoring systems for pregnant women at high risk. With a smartphone and a portable cuff, expectant mothers can monitor preeclampsia, a dangerous blood pressure condition. 

Apps generate reminders to check blood pressure and report the results to doctors. And the effects go beyond delivery: While only about 40 percent of women, on average, keep their post-partum appointments after they deliver, 90 percent of women enrolled in a remote monitoring program kept their appointments.

Remote monitoring technologies are also generating interest at CES, the world’s largest, most influential technology event. At CES 2019, Black & Decker debuted the PRIA home care companion, which allows caregivers to monitor medication and health care schedules without compromising a patient’s independent lifestyle. 

The system dispenses medication and alerts patients and remote caregivers when doses are missed. It also has a video function for caregivers to check in.

Remote patient monitoring products are life-changing, and they’re increasingly common. By 2021, more than 50 million people worldwide will have access to remote monitoring tools, resulting in fewer doctor visits. 

Health care data is sensitive. Our nation needs a pre-emptive, technology-neutral federal privacy law for health tech to ensure consistent protections for consumers. 

Such a framework should be risk-based and flexible and rely on time-tested principles of transparency, consumer choice, security and heightened protections for sensitive data. Consumers will benefit from innovation only when they trust companies with their data — and tech companies will succeed only if they earn and maintain that trust.

Based on my own experience, innovators in the tech industry value privacy and strive to develop products that deliver benefits while protecting consumers. That’s why it’s encouraging to see Consumer Technology Association member companies — such as Doctor on Demand, Embleema, Humetrix, IBM and Validic — come together to proactively develop a unique set of voluntary privacy guidelines for companies that handle consumer health and wellness data. These principles now reflect the collection, use and sharing of data of not only wearables, but apps, software and other digital tools signaling that health tech companies recognize they must be trusted stewards of that consumer data.

I’m excited about the possibilities for tech in health care. Through technology, we can develop an innovative health care system that delivers advanced, accessible and affordable care for all.

 

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer technology companies, and a New York Times best-selling author. His views are his own.

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