The Promise Of Digital Medicine

Over the next few years, expect to see a dramatic increase in the use and scope of digital technology in medicine. The reasons are primarily financial, although other benefits should accrue as the technology takes hold.

The Affordable Care Act puts great emphasis on digitizing medical information into Electronic Health Records (EHRs) to both save money and make service delivery more efficient. Although Medicare, the single largest medical care provider in the US, is behind on it's implementation of EHRs, the pressure is on to meet the requirements. A move to digital records and analysis should be a benefit across the board regardless of whether "Obamacare" leads to a single payer system, as some think it inevitably will.

Another benefit of EHRs is the ability to then analyze the raw data to determine trends, treatment efficacy and so on. There are already efforts using computers such as IBM's "Watson" to provide intelligent search capabilities and analysis, known generically as Clinical Decision Support Systems.

As we begin to face a shortage of physicians, which appears to be at least a short term consequence of the Act, there is potential to increase utilization of telemedicine technologies, which helps to bring the health professional to the patient. This also helps to fulfill one of the tenets of the Act, to provide medical coverage to those that previously did not have ready access to healthcare.

There is also a burgeoning market in the use of mobile devices such as smartphones to provide monitoring of conditions such as heart disease and blood sugar levels, where people can often use these resources in lieu of actual office visits. This can save money and add convenience for those who are physically less able to visit a doctor or clinic regularly.

If these approaches can be implemented successfully and in a timely manner, we may actually realize some benefits over the next several years, and hopefully the Affordable Care Act will live up to it's name, although that will be a tough nut to crack.

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