The MedTech Boom: Five Considerations to Optimize Viability of Health Innovations

Rick Burnett, PharmD, FACHE

Artificial intelligence. Breakthroughs in 3D printing applications. Driverless cars.

The future is bright with technological innovation intended to improve every corner of our lives and, accordingly, there has been a virtual explosion in advancements designed to address the many challenges faced by patients, hospitals, and healthcare professionals.

Mobile health apps are plentiful, and a significant portion of them now assist with medication compliance and managing chronic diseases at home. A preponderance of health-related wearable technology leverages the power of biosensors, which can be placed in a watch or a patch on the skin, implanted subcutaneously, or swallowed like a pill. And, applications for these devices run the spectrum. A smart patch that uses nanoparticles to diagnose health problems and—potentially—administer drugs is currently in development. The FDA just approved an oral medication treating neurological disorders that has an imbedded sensor that will send data to caregivers to let them know when or if patients have taken their medication. Other sensors are available to track glucose levels and deliver insulin via a pump to help patients suffering with diabetes.

Such innovations are doubtless exciting to healthcare professionals, but it’s a long path from beta testing a promising concept to widespread adoption, and unforeseen pitfalls are plentiful. What should leaders in managed care be considering in order to either help these bright ideas reach their full potential or decide which may be nonstarters for their organizations? Asking a few pointed questions can help to jump start the conversation.

For starters, can we afford it?
It’s fairly well-known that many of today’s hospitals are under incredible financial strain. Whether having to invest significant capital to remain competitive, keeping up with changing pharmacy regulations to stay compliant, or reducing reimbursements, hospital executives must be prudent with spending and the bottom line. In that environment, even if a pilot program proves new technology will save money in the long term, hospitals may struggle to come up with the cash to implement it today.

Investigating alternative financial options may be required to make adoption of a new technology or innovation viable. For example, might insurers cover the cost of the new technology for beneficiaries as part of their prevention strategies? Might government agencies subsidize manufacturers to offer discounts to hospitals and patients? Without a path to payment for new technologies, developing and testing them may prove moot.

Could adoption of the technology expose the organization to additional IT risks?
Hospitals and health systems are vulnerable to cyberattacks, as evidenced by numerous stories about ransomware attacks on hospitals in the past few years. So, the risk of exposure of electronic health record (EHR) or private patient data is a real one, and hospitals are already working to shore up their primary systems and hardware to guard against such a threat.

But, what about smaller devices, intended to share patient health data between patient, provider and hospital, that don’t remain in the possession of the organization? Where would liabilities lie if personal health information was leaked through use of such devices? Or, could a faulty device even pose a physical danger to a patient who isn’t under direct provider supervision?

Organizations’ information technology and legal teams, both, would do well to pay attention to such potential risks that might come with the adoption of the latest technology trends.

Does the technology represent a true solution or just a Band-Aid?
For many, the creation of a product that does something new may, understandably, represent an end, in and of itself. But, for health professionals on the frontlines of patient care, the success of a technology must be measured on how completely it solves patient problems. For example, a tool to remind patients to take their medications when they leave the hospital ultimately may not be very effective if the primary reason patients aren’t taking their medications is because they can’t afford them—as is the case for 1 in 10 Americans, according to the CDC.

Depending on their varied backgrounds, the innovators of these advancements might not have a comprehensive understanding of the drivers behind some of the challenges they’re working to address. Healthcare leaders can help connect the dots to results in more comprehensive solutions.

How well does the technology align with the audience that might need it most?
According to the National Council of Aging, 77% of adults age 65 or older currently have 2 chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, or diabetes. And, according to the latest data available from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, more than one-third of hospital stays were by patients over the age of 65. Clearly, then, addressing the critical needs of these older patient populations is necessarily high on the list of priorities.

So, healthcare professionals who may be exploring solutions for aging populations that leverage new technologies, such as smartphones, tablets, or even virtual reality, should consider how widely adopted they are within this age demographic. It may be difficult for relatively young and healthy innovators to put themselves in the mindset of an older adult struggling with a chronic illness, so hospital executives engaging in an open dialogue with these patients and their caregivers about what types of products they are, or aren’t, comfortable using is vital.

How much staff training will be required to get new tech operational and fully integrated?
Training on a new app or a new piece of tech, might not—in itself—be terribly time intensive. But, for the devices designed to put more control directly into the hands of patients (with oversight from their respective care teams), there will need to be coordination that can be, at times, complex. Many of these personal monitoring or medication-dispensing tools will require integration with a facility’s EHR system and might need to pull data from multiple disparate systems into a single interface. What sort of programming know-how will be required to get the new tech assimilated into existing systems and, perhaps, even talking to them in ways they’ve never talked to themselves?

It could be minimal, or it could be exorbitant, but the question should be posed to all who might be involved.

A judicious approach
The rapid pace of innovation in healthcare is astounding, and it will unquestionably represent a major component in tackling the challenges of an evolving world. But, however promising these solutions might appear, a judicious approach is required to ensure that each new application or device will be a true, long-term benefit to patients, the providers, and the health system.
Print | AJMC Printing...