Health IT luminaries share their vision, priorities for the future of digital healthcare
The lines between “healthcare” and “digital healthcare” are blurring as technology becomes ever more ingrained in the way providers, payers, and patients interact every day. From EHRs to patient-facing apps to personalized immunotherapies, data is more than just the new oil – it’s the new medicine.
Yet the industry has only scratched the surface of what digital healthcare can do. There are still countless opportunities to connect disparate systems better, refine user interfaces, empower patients, and realign incentives to encourage the delivery of data-driven, value-based care.
Getting to the ultimate goal of using technology to improve outcomes, reduce spending, and improve experiences will require creativity, flexibility, and sustained collaboration between all members of the care continuum.
To help chart a path forward, the National Academy of Medicine convened a star-studded group of health IT experts from some of the most influential organizations in the business, including Atul Butte, Judy Faulkner, John Halamka, Eric Topol, Lucia Savage, Donald Rucker, and a dozen more authors from top payers, providers, academic institutions, and technology companies.
In a new report called The Promise of Digital Health: Then, Now, and the Future, these leaders outlined their vision for the future of tech-enabled healthcare and shared their action steps for achieving the promises of a fully digital care delivery ecosystem.
Improving access, affordability and outcomes for patients
Ensuring that patients and their caregivers directly benefit from technology is a central goal of the digital health community. Moving away from reactive medicine toward proactive, preventive care will significantly reduce spending and improve outcomes – and digital health will be the key to achieving this objective.
Population health management analytics can help identify high-risk individuals in need of intervention and support health equity, while clinical decision support (CDS) tools can ensure that providers take the best possible actions for each individual at the point of care.
Meanwhile, telemedicine and remote patient monitoring platforms can help patients manage their own health more effectively and reduce barriers to access for vulnerable patients. Bringing more healthcare into the home will relieve pressure on providers, reduce unnecessary utilization, and enable more timely, comprehensive care for patients.
To maximize the value of these tools, the healthcare community will need to pair their technology with practice transformation efforts, such as implementing care coordination and patient navigation programs, expanding office hours, and integrating services that meaningfully address the social determinants of health.
Creating a financial environment friendly to adopting new tools and strategies will be essential for success. The authors suggest that CMS should accelerate payment reforms that ensure equal access to digital health tools for providers and incentivize holistic, preventive care for patients.
Leveraging big, deep, interoperable data to create a learning health system
Access to large volumes of rich, clean, complete, accurate, and timely data will be critical for fostering an environment where value-driven care can thrive, the paper continues.
This means focusing on true interoperability that enables stakeholders to share necessary information without compromising patient privacy and data security.
Interoperability standards are becoming more codified as developers and providers work together on health information exchange, but these principles must go beyond the confines of the EHR, the panel asserted.
For example, the COVID-19 pandemic clearly illustrated the need for more robust data to inform public health responses, and offered new use cases for bringing together labs, disease and immunization registries, life sciences, claims, consumer and medical devices, government agencies, and other data sources.
Full participation from the entire care community will be necessary to create a continuously learning health system that is adaptable and responsive to the nation’s changing health needs, including potential future pandemics.
Congress and the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) should continue to work with industry to develop governance and policy frameworks to support seamless interoperability, the experts said. These frameworks should pay particular attention to emerging standards, such as APIs, while providing direction on how to safeguard patient privacy and maintain data security.
Preparing for the next generation of digital innovation with data stewardship
Researchers and developers are actively ushering in the next generation of digital healthcare with the help of artificial intelligence, advanced genomics, and new strategies for using real-world data to develop and test clinical breakthroughs.
These tools must be designed and deployed without hidden biases that perpetuate health disparities. They must also be accessible to all patients, including underserved and traditionally marginalized populations.
Ethical data stewardship should focus on transparency in development, clarity around patient consent, and robust validation strategies for new algorithms or concepts.
With clear, shared standards for data stewardship, innovators will be able to iterate and improve in a rapid yet measured manner, making it easier and more cost-effective to bring new products to market.
Multistakeholder groups, alongside Congress, CMS, the ONC, and other authorities, will need to collaborate on disseminating data stewardship standards to the entire industry, the report says. Leading organizations should consider participating in such groups and increasing their investments in evidence-based research and technical development to accelerate the availability of cutting-edge digital products.
By collaboratively building a new roadmap to innovation and agreeing to remove traditional competitive barriers and incentive structures, the healthcare industry can continue to make progress toward becoming fully digital and fostering better outcomes and experiences for everyone who engages with the healthcare ecosystem.
Jennifer Bresnick is a journalist and freelance content creator with a decade of experience in the health IT industry. Her work has focused on leveraging innovative technology tools to create value, improve health equity, and achieve the promises of the learning health system.