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Technological innovations have reshaped the world drastically in only a matter of decades, giving us life-changing devices like smartphones that allow us to tap into worlds of information instantly. The healthcare sector, however, for all its developments, is not quite catching up to the rates of innovation seen in other industries. Introducing new practices and technologies is slower in healthcare than you might expect—but is this for better or for worse?
In the United States, healthcare costs are already 17.7% of total GDP, an expense that is growing all the time, eclipsing the money spent by comparable nations that provide broader healthcare access to their citizens. Lack of innovation is one element of this massive expenditure, as healthcare systems rely on complicated systems of funding, development, and implementation to change care procedures.
While much of this system is in place to protect patients from untested care solutions, the result often means a healthcare system held back from the developments that grow other sectors. To better understand the system, we’ll examine the state of healthcare innovation as well as where developments have gone too far or not far enough.
Healthcare and Innovation
First, it would be folly to say that healthcare hasn’t changed significantly in recent years. The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic alone has forced shifts in consumer and provider use of digital care solutions that look to transform aspects of patient care.
Some of these digital trends in healthcare include:
- Use of big data and analytics to track patient health and communicate status.
- Artificial intelligence developments in diagnostics and care management.
- Increase of mobile electronic health records (EHR) and telehealth options.
- Emergence of virtual reality (VR) as a means of surgeon training and performance enhancement.
All of these technologies have the potential to change the way we receive and experience care. In theory, developments like these should undercut costs as well, giving consumers competitive options that save time and effort on the part of the care provider.
So why aren’t we seeing broader applications of these efficient techniques? And where are the associated savings?
The answers to these questions come down to the barriers in place to innovation in the healthcare industry, barriers that are widespread and often difficult to overcome. There are many components to these barriers; here are some of the primary factors causing problems:
- Anti-competition practices.
- Coalitions protecting the healthcare status quo.
- Challenges in finding funding to innovate.
- Marketing difficulties in reaching group purchasing organizations.
The state of the US healthcare system defies innovations at many turns, some a result of fervent adherents to past practices, others a symptom of insurance-provider interactions and competitive cannibalism. These factors make wide-spread innovation difficult, but it isn’t impossible. There have historically been times when innovations in the US healthcare system went too far.
Going Too Far
Many past innovations of the healthcare system, intended for good, overstepped their bounds and have wound up being their own obstacles to future innovations both in the United States and across the world. From the overreach of American talent poaching to the policies that tied health insurance to employers, policy and practice innovations have created burdens for helpful tech and consumer developments.
Some of the most substantial overreaches of the US healthcare system are:
- Poaching the world’s doctors. In the effort to hoard talent and attempt to normalize a broken system, the US has maintained a long history of luring in doctors from less-developed countries that often have more dire needs. This keeps foreign nations in a state of crisis while delegitimizing their own healthcare systems.
- Overpowering the American Medical Association. The AMA is an organization of care providers and corporations that hold massive amounts of power over US politicians. This organization, along with others like it, consistently remains among the highest-spending lobbyists in the country and has been instrumental in policies supporting the status-quo, presenting obstacles to additional innovations like Medicare for All.
- Tying healthcare to employment. As a means of incentivizing new workers during a WWII wage cap, companies began offering health insurance as a perk. This practice was further reinforced by tax-free employer contributions and the following lobbying war (led by the AMA) to prevent coverage at a national level. The result is a system of employer-based health insurance that has been devastating in the recent pandemic, during which millions lost their jobs.
All these features of the US healthcare system were innovations in their time—innovations that have now overstepped or grown too large to support a continuously innovating and comprehensive healthcare market. If we can break through these barriers to new developments, then there is a bright future on the horizon for technological developments in health treatments.
Not Going Far Enough
Brilliant minds abound in the field of healthcare, creating new and wonderful care solutions all the time. These technological developments—if they can reach a wide-spread and economical place in our healthcare system—will change the lives of millions.
Take, for example, the work done by Dr. Anthony Atala and his team to repurpose a 3D inkjet printer to grow organs for human transplant. This incredible innovation has been used to structure new bladders, heart valves, tracheas, and even genitals using the patient’s own blood cells through an additive building process on a scaffold of biomaterial. The results are rejection-free, life-saving organ replacements.
However, the mainstreaming of this technology is on hold due to bureaucratic challenges of the FDA as well as from the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 that puts the future of this tech into question. With this tech and others like it suffering from unprecedented legal processes and a system designed to reinforce the status quo, it is uncertain when and if we can see more developments like this available to the broader public.
Healthcare innovations have unlimited potential. However, the model of the US healthcare system presents myriad obstacles towards the wide-spread implementation of practices and devices that can save patients money while revolutionizing the quality of care.
Moving forward, policymakers in the US should look more to the examples set by other countries in terms of constructing a healthcare system that accepts innovation and works for everyone. In the meantime, we can support the ethical and trial-based acceptance of revolutionary technologies that will ideally cut healthcare costs and improve access.
The post Healthcare Innovations: Going Too Far or Not Far Enough? first appeared on Dissident Voice.