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Disruptive Technology Causes, Cures Healthcare's Ills

Edward Prewitt, for HealthLeaders Media, December 27, 2011

At HealthLeaders Media's CFO Exchange event in September, Joe Smith, MD, chief medical officer of the West Wireless Health Institute, gave a persuasive keynote address on the potential for wireless devices, along with data analytics, to disrupt (there's that word again) the practice of healthcare.

Now consider that these two categories of technology are not what people talk about when they talk about healthcare IT. Instead, the focus is on EMR, EHR/PHR, CPOE, HIEs, and other of the three-letter acronyms that IT vendors and government agencies love. These informatics solutions have the potential to make healthcare much more efficient, but at a cost.

Yet there is a fourth type of technology that makes healthcare informatics inevitable. The ICU equipment that keeps people alive and allows quick and accurate diagnoses, the operating room devices that make formerly improbable procedures now routine, the medical devices that return sick people to a relatively normal life—this kind of medical technology is a wonder of the modern world, yet it nearly costs the earth, too. Medical hardware has raised the practice of healthcare but also raised expectations of what healthcare can accomplish.

All four of these categories of technology have disrupted the practice of healthcare and will continue to do so. Some technologies increase overall costs, others decrease it or have great potential to do so. As Christensen says, the solution to disruption can only be disruption. But the path to a future state of healthcare business bliss won't be straight, and it won't "just happen."

It will take a lot of work from many actors—IT vendors, medical device makers, government agencies, and most especially hospitals and healthcare systems—to bring about disruptive changes that lower healthcare costs while maintaining quality.

Besides, change never ends. What comes after the current disruption? More disruption.


Edward Prewitt is the Editorial Director of HealthLeaders Media.
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