PCAST: How the government can advance R&D in health technology

In an assessment of the state of research and development in IT in the United States, a new report gives recommendations for refreshed R&D investment and coordination--including in the healthcare technology realm.

In its third review of the government's coordinated program of Networking and Information Technology R&D, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) brought in experts from academia and various industries to give recommendations on how IT R&D can be enhanced in industries like healthcare.

The authors note that programs like President Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative, the National Institutes of Health's appointment of a Director of Data Science and the NIH's "Big Data to Knowledge" program all show the continued investment into health IT, but add that there is more that needs to be done.

When it comes to health data, issues that need to be addressed, according to the review, include tapping the information for machine learning and inference, as well as creating better toolkits and frameworks to allow researchers access to data.

The report also points to a lack of interoperability standards as problematic, as well as limitations on innovation due to inability for rapid deployment and testing of new tools. 

"As a result, many promising technologies that would quickly advance in non-healthcare settings are left unrealized," the authors say.

To solve these and other issues, PCAST recommends government agencies focus on:

  • Creation of "systematic science approaches that will support study of treatments and outcomes of individual and groups of patients as complements and as replacements to randomized controlled trials"
  • Exploration of tools, such mobile health devices and biometric technologies, to better monitor patients and improve outpatient care
  • Development of new technologies to share data while protecting patients' privacy
  • Methods to reduce data complexity and provide actionable decision support to health practitioners, patients and healthcare administrators

Government agencies should continue to support foundational research in health IT and create standards and incentives for leveraging of electronic health data, especially in support of biomedical research and in the delivery of healthcare, the authors conclude.

To learn more:
- here's the report (.pdf)