Policymakers urged to embrace technology to improve healthcare

Healthcare has only just begun to harness the potential of the digital world to improve care, according to a report of the Digital Innovation in Healthcare Working Group. Digital innovation offers the potential to address healthcare's three primary challenges: rising costs, uneven quality and inadequate access.

The paper, sponsored by the Qatar Foundation and the Imperial College of London, was presented earlier this month at the Global Health Policy Summit in London.

A panel, led by George Halvorson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, one of the authors, discussed ways to embrace emerging technology.

The paper draws similarities between healthcare and agriculture in the early 1900s, which has undergone decades of innovation to improve quality with less work. The authors call for re-engineering the way that healthcare is produced and delivered.

"Governments and policymakers need to foster the transformation by creating the right conditions, encouraging innovation, empowering patients, reforming payment systems and removing inappropriate regulatory barriers conceived in a pre-digital era," the report says.

Among the recommendations:

  • Set the direction, and commit to it: Policymakers should design and communicate a vision that signals to investors and innovators that digital innovation is a priority.

  • Empower patients: Patients should gain the right to access their medical records online, to engage their providers via digital channels, and to share their records across their teams of providers.

  • Reduce barriers to regulatory approval and licensing: For medical software and mobile apps, regulatory processes should be aligned with iterative software-development cycles.

  • Accelerate the healthcare evidence base: Care procedures that have good proven health outcomes should be standardized. Support should be given to the rapid sharing of clinical protocols, best practices and outcomes data.

Digital innovation represents a "fourth space" beyond those where healthcare traditionally has been delivered: hospitals, clinics and homes. The authors urge policymakers and executives to "take an expansive view of digital and social media" to recognize their true potential for altering and improving the dynamics of healthcare. They specifically urge two broad actions: remove barriers that prevent faster adoption, and encourage experimentation and development.

U.S. health reform is expected to be a boon for innovators not only from those within medicine but also among entrepreneurs, as FierceHealthIT has reported. The number of mobile applications is soaring for consumers as well as healthcare professionals, while the use of social media poses both opportunities and pitfalls for providers.

At the same time, technology for analyzing large data sets offers myriad new opportunities for research and in prediction to help improve care in the present.

To learn more:
- read the report
- here's the summit's summary

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