How Investment in Emerging Technologies Can Improve Healthcare
Part XVI: Yes, Now is the Perfect Time to Talk Healthcare in America
I believe the public sector can use the levers of government to occasionally steer the private sector in a needed direction. In this case, allow the private sector to do what it does best: innovate. The government can offer bench marked tax deductions to certain technologies that can be interwoven into the healthcare system.
Double Down on Telehealth
First, as has been heavily utilized during the pandemic, telehealth will be an essential part of the future. To a large extent, telehealth can be the avenue to help close the inaccessibility gap. If basic treatment and visits can be conducted remotely, it allows for more immediate treatment, quick diagnoses for commonly treated ailments, and perhaps most importantly, cuts out some of the dead weight administrative costs that exist from in-person care and a la carte billing.
Now, in many instances, there is no replacement for in-person care. However, if we can change the system to a more preventative model, it will have long term benefits. As demonstrated, the real stresses to our current healthcare system for vulnerable and minority communities aren’t the multitude of general doctors’ visits but rather the serious, acute care visits resulting from a lack of general doctors’ visits.
At the same time, many other groups stand to gain from a stronger virtual healthcare presence. Rural patients can more easily access their doctors from long-distance. For instance, through the Indian Health Service, the government uses telehealth to better treat Native Americans on vast yet remote reservations. Elderly patients, especially those who have mobility limitations, can avoid arduous trips to see physicians. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has numerous telehealth initiatives to treat aging and disabled patients. Finally, parents with young children can reduce frequent visits to a pediatrician. Many children’s hospitals are beginning to rollout more widespread use.
Telehealth isn’t a new concept. It has been around for decades. Until the pandemic, it had not seen broad, societal use. Instead, it mostly focused on specific, targeted communities. It has often been branded as a pilot program or as a secondary option. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth is being utilized at unprecedented levels. The government and private sector need to double down and intensify its velocity. They should work to permanently integrate telehealth into the healthcare system, build more robust networks, and scale its accessibility.
Telehealth software can be downloaded to personal devices, but I would also consider co-locating services in local, public domains; therefore, internet access won’t act as a barrier to disadvantaged and remote communities.
As with most software implementations and services, the marginal costs would remain low. Like France, telehealth software should include medical record integration. That way, through cloud storage, healthcare professionals can gain universal access to their patients’ pertinent information and medical history.
Point of Sale Medical Billing
Next, I would spur the private sector to scale healthcare point of scale (POS) technology. While it does exist, the deployment and adoption is relatively limited and the timetable should be sped along. I believe this is where the government can step in.
I would add incentives for the development of this technology and for widespread use by hospital systems. I would also require that the government’s health insurance be completely tied to POS devices where billing is completed in real time. I imagine some would argue about instances of insurance claim fraud; however, I don’t see how this would be all that different from credit card transactions. Essentially, the insurance provider would act like a credit lender until payment is recouped.
While the private sector can’t necessarily be compelled to use this technology, I believe they would be pushed in that direction. In order to stay competitive with government-insurance plans using point of sale technology, private insurers would need to adopt it rapidly. I believe this would also empower patients because it would create price transparency, allow for more independent value-assessment study, and force hospital systems to cut costs.
Once again, this allows for patients to maintain a choice-based approach but closes the information gap and effectively would eliminate surprise billing. Hospitals can still make money and earn profits. However, they cannot continue to foster a rampant, profiteering ecosystem. It’s a conflict of interest for providing affordable and accessible healthcare.
As is the case in many foreign democracies, hospitals can operate privately but need more oversight. Importantly, third party entities that inflate net profits for their own gain, and at a patient’s expense, must be neutralized.
While these ideas wouldn’t solve every problem with the American healthcare system, I believe that they could be a good start. At a minimum, I hope that these ideas add some creativity to a healthcare system which needs to think boldly and differently. Regardless, any set of solutions must be based in pragmatism; otherwise, I don’t believe much will really change.
Most consequentially, I hope that this series has helped create a basic understanding of the American healthcare system: where it succeeds, where it fails, and how it compares around the world. I encourage everyone who reads to add to the discussion, get involved, vote, and help build a more effective and equitable system. We need one.
I would like to thank Mike Bacior, Emma Dieter, and Hunter Voegele for their support in reviewing and editing this series.
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