“We have this idea—one that can ONLY exist in the field of health care—that the internet is going to be really big” – Jonathan Bush, CEO of Athena Health
Telemedicine, machine learning/artificial intelligence, electronic records, even concepts of customer satisfaction, are all ideas that many in the healthcare space seem to have just realized exist. During the 2016 Medical Innovation Summit, hosted by Cleveland Clinic Innovations, we were exposed to many companies and leaders on the forefront of healthcare innovation. Nearly all of these innovators complained of one common, disconcerting challenge: health care is largely resistant to innovation.
Much of this resistance stems from lengthy, expensive, and strict government regulation on nearly everything in the medical space. These regulations come from more than just the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Innovators need to overcome regulatory obstacles put in place by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), just to name a few.
In addition, the complex relationship between payers, providers, and patients further diminishes the ability of new products to penetrate the healthcare market. But, thanks to the support of legislators and advocacy groups, innovation within health care is becoming incentivized through value-based relationships between payers and providers. These new relationships shift risk from payers onto providers. In turn, this encourages provider organizations to adopt new technologies and services that increase cost efficiency and improve patient outcomes and satisfaction.
Because of these stiff regulations and complex (albeit evolving) payer-provider relationships, many emerging innovations in health care are reapplications of technologies that have already been in use for years in other industries. A prime example is the adoption of video chatting applications in routine physician check-ins (particularly when no physical contact between patient and physician needs to be made).
As most will remember, mobile video chatting has been around largely since the release of Facetime in 2010, and even longer than that if you consider computer based video calls via Skype, which was released in 2003. Video chatting is far from being a new technological advancement, and it’s been shown to improve physician efficiency and patient satisfaction. Yet, adoption rates of providers outside of value-based reimbursement systems are still very low. Low adoption can be attributed in part to Medicare’s delayed decision to cover telehealth visits (which even now are only partially covered) and to strict regulation meant to protect patient privacy such as HIPAA.
Fret not, for although adoption of new technologies often takes longer in health care as compared to other industries, most promising new technologies find their way into hospitals eventually. Some technologies, such as electronic health records, are now being widely utilized by providers despite having taken longer than one might expect to become common practice in health care. Common use of others, like virtual reality and augmented reality, might not be far behind. Better late than never, I suppose.