The Intersection of Health and Technology: Responsibility to Innovate

September 18, 2012

By Joni Bouley

Last week marked the seventh annual National Health Information Technology Week, which emphasizes the promotion and improvement of technologies used in the healthcare and consumer health industries. At this time last year, President Obama released an official proclamation of the importance of Health IT Week and its message.

According to an article published in MediaPost, the United States spends more per capita than our peer countries, yet ranks lowest in terms of life expectancy and chronic health issues. One way to treat and prevent many of the most common (and treatable) chronic maladies – i.e., hypertension, diabetes, obesity – is to ensure that people are aware of the causes and treatments for these issues.

Kathleen Sibelius, Secretary of the Health & Human Services Department, stressed at a health IT forum last year the importance of “promoting innovative uses of data to advance health and healthcare in America… helping consumers take control of their own health by putting the right information at their fingertips.” It’s important to note that Secretary Sibelius used the phrase right information, rather than just information. This is a major opportunity for the healthcare industry, because knowledge – accurate scientific knowledge, as opposed to mere common knowledge – is power. It is clear to see that nearly everyone today is walking around with a miniature computer in their pocket. Nielsen reports that 46% of US mobile phone owners have a smart phone as of Q4 2011; the figure is 71% among 25-34 year-olds. Safer, smarter healthcare decisions are literally at the fingertips of a growing and curious (albeit sick) market…how the health industry will seize this opportunity is still being realized.

Modern technologies not only empower the consumer to practice good health – they empower the healthcare industry to improve its record systems, communications and inefficiencies. Ximedica’s Beth Werner explored the barriers to innovation within the healthcare system in last week’s blog post, and her first-hand insights were staggering. Crucial information about patients and doctors do not often live in a safe, all-encompassing digital location. Rather, patient data might be scribbled on physical pieces of paper, or input into archaic, incompatible software. How can the healthcare industry not be using the newest technologies to take care of patients? Our country is spending the most per capita, but the health of each ‘capita’ is disproportionally low.

The burgeoning empowerment of both the consumer and the caretaker is not an observation that is being taken for granted. We remember the MassDevice Big 100 event earlier this year, when the realization of the potential for technology in healthcare was one of the major themes being discussed.

As our CIO Aidan Petrie illustrated at this year’s Digital Health Summit, the rapidly intersecting Health and Technology industries have firmly entered the age of the user; the physician, nurse, patient, and family hold much sway in the success of a new device—many clinical procedures are now considered to be healthcare’s version of commodities. From the point of view of a medical device design and development company, it is clear that technological innovation in health care is not only an opportunity – it’s an obligation.