Technology at center of efforts to control costs, improve care

Technology that helps healthcare providers provide care more efficiently will be among the factors containing the cost of healthcare in the United States, according to an article from The Commonwealth Fund.

That technology will be focused on providing evidence-based care, better coordination of care for the sickest--and most costly--patients and providing more transparency to help educate patients on how to get the best value for their healthcare dollar, according to the article, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

David Blumenthal, president of The Commonwealth Fund, told USA Today that it's difficult to determine how much the Affordable Care Act is responsible for the slowdown in healthcare spending, how much is due to the recession and how much is due to changes in care delivery. 

The report notes that not all technology use is increasing. Expensive blockbuster drugs are emerging at a slower rate than in the past and many forecasts see fewer costly treatments. Use of advanced diagnostic imaging has flattened and there are fewer cardiac procedures, though use of less expensive options has slowed as well.

The authors conclude there are two ways contain healthcare costs: ration services or re-engineer the system to have providers share risk for the cost and quality of services. That might include incentives for patients to choose more efficient care, including accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes. More effective use of data lies at the heart of these efforts.

In contrast to other industries, technology in healthcare generally has been associated with increasing costs rather than lowering them.

"Essentially, it's how do we move from cost-increasing to cost-reducing technology? That is the challenge of the 21st century," Jonathan Gruber, an economist at MIT who leads a heathcare group at the National Bureau of Economic Research, wrote recently at Technology Review.

Expensive technology is the factor most likely to drive healthcare spending in the coming years, experts concluded in a Brookings Papers on Economic Activity analysis.

Meanwhile, the global market for healthcare analytics is expected to grow from an estimated $4.4 billion today to $21 billion by 2020, according to MarketsandMarkets.

To learn more:
- find the article in the New England Journal of Medicine
- read the USA Today story