Role of emerging technologies in the healthcare industry

By Aaron Young, CIO, Summit Healthcare Regional Medical Center

COVID-19 accelerated the need for the healthcare industry to adopt and adapt emerging technologies.  During the pandemic, a brick and mortar facility became significantly less important than technology solutions that allow providers to care for patients remotely. Although telehealth is often considered an emerging technology, many telehealth tools have been around for years. For many providers, the use of telehealth technology had taken a backseat to in-person visits partially due to reimbursement limitations, but also in-person visits are “how we’ve always done it”. Change isn’t easy. 

Change is more easily accepted when the status quo becomes uncomfortable, unsustainable, or impossible. Patients on lockdown, afraid of in-person visits, and fear of the unknown created an environment where technologies that have been available for years finally emerged. Improved reimbursement and relaxed HIPAA requirements further accelerated the adoption of these “emerging” technologies, and as a result, patients and providers alike have become more accepting of these “new” technologies. 

Acceptance became adoption, followed by convenience in the new reality of remote healthcare. Emerging technology in healthcare is often more about adoption than it is about technology. Sometimes it takes the perfect storm to show the value technology provides in healthcare, and 2020 was that perfect storm to make telemedicine a cornerstone of healthcare. 

Innovative healthcare organizations that understand technology is a cornerstone have invested in creating virtual hospitals. Virtual hospitals will allow patients to receive healthcare from anywhere and reduce healthcare costs. Historically brick and mortar locations defined a healthcare organization’s identity and limited the organization’s service area. 

Technology becomes the great equalizer. Those who can create the emerging adoption of remote high-quality healthcare solutions will no longer be limited by geographic location. As more data becomes available, outcomes will improve and more services will be offered remotely. When patients are given a choice between an expensive hospital stay or the convenience of home, the paradigm will shift and today’s emerging technologies have become the norm. 

Technology Adoption Challenges

End-users (patients and providers) have different technical skillsets. Highly technical users are often frustrated when less technical users create a delay. The perfect example of this frustration is when you’re on a WebEx meeting, and one user delays the start of the meeting by 10 minutes because she/he is unable to figure out how to mute a microphone, use a camera, or share a screen. Less technical users are hesitant to use technology in fear they will be judged for not muting their microphone, not knowing how to use a camera, or share their screen. 

At our facility, a significant factor in preventing adoption is the lack of internet connectivity. A frequently used excuse is elderly retirees don’t use technology; however, we find many retirees use our technology services. 

Impacts of Technology

Patients are able to receive care where they are with remote visits, which saves them time and money.  Patients don’t have to take as much time off from work which allows their free time to be spent doing things other than taking care of healthcare visits. Providers are able to see more patients in the same amount of time when the technology works. Providers don’t have as much travel time for going to remote locations for follow-up visits which creates a better work/live balance.  

The negative impact is not everything can be done with today’s technology. At times, technology can accomplish 80% of what’s required, but the rest 20% take remote technology off the table. The true emerging technologies will be those technologies that overcome that 20% gap to allow even more to be done remotely. 

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