Three key questions for executives and innovators
The past year has been one of amazing health care innovations as global startup and investment communities have begun to recognize the potential for Silicon Valley to impact patient care. It seems each week brings a new smart device or gadget designed to tackle the industry’s costliest challenges, and the hospital leaders, physicians, nurses, pharmacists and others who face those challenges daily are understandably grateful for the effort.
For example, dozens of devices have been developed to help improve medication compliance, and with good reason – per JAMA, 50 percent of patients with chronic conditions don’t take their medications as prescribed. From smart pills, which, once ingested, digitally sends data to caregivers to let them know patients have taken their medications, to smart pill boxes that hook into patients’ smartphones to remind them when to take their next dose (and alert doctors when they don’t).
While these innovations are undoubtedly exciting to health care professionals and surely designed with the best of intentions, it’s incumbent on health care leaders to help innovators take a step back and ensure they understand the realities of health care delivery and the unique considerations that apply to the most vulnerable populations. At a minimum, when evaluating a new technology’s viability or considering adopting one at their hospital, health care leaders should ask themselves the below questions. As IT innovators develop their products – ideally, at the brainstorming stage – creators new to or removed from the health care space may also consider these questions to ensure they’re on track for a viable solution.
1. Can payers afford the technology? It’s no secret that many of today’s hospitals are under incredible financial strain. In the past few years, many have had to make enormous capital investments to stay competitive and comply with ever-changing regulations while at the same time facing reduced reimbursements in an evolving and uncertain health care reform market. Even if a pilot program proves new technology will save money in the long term, hospitals may struggle to come up with the cash to implement it today. Innovators and the hospitals that plan to adopt their new products must be prepared to get creative in order to make widespread adoption financially viable. For example, might insurers cover the cost of the new technology for beneficiaries as part of their prevention strategies? Might government agencies subsidize manufacturers to offer discounts to hospitals and patients? Without a path to payment for new technologies, developing and testing them may prove fruitless.
2. Does the solution address the problem at the root cause? While, for many people, the creation of a product that does something new may understandably represent an end in and of itself, for the health care professionals in the trenches of patient care, the success of a technology must be measured on how completely it solves patient problems. For example, a tool to remind patients to take their medications when they leave the hospital may not ultimately be very effective if the reason patients aren’t taking their medications is because they can’t afford them – as is the case for 1 in 10 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Innovators with backgrounds in other industries might not have a comprehensive understanding of the drivers behind some of the challenges they’re working to address. Health care leaders can help.
3. Is the technology designed for the patients that are most likely to use it? According to the National Council of Aging, 77 percent of adults age 65 or older currently have two chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke or diabetes, and according to the latest data available from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, in 2012, more than a third of hospital stays were by patients over the age of 65. Clearly, older adults are a critical patient population, and health care professionals considering solutions that leverage new technologies, such as smartphones, tablets or even virtual reality, should consider how widely adopted they are within this group. It may be difficult for a relatively young and healthy innovator to put themselves in the mindset of an older adult struggling with a chronic illness, so an open dialogue with these patients and their providers about what types of products they are, or aren’t, comfortable using is critical.
The recent pace of innovation in health care is astounding – and necessary to tackle the challenges of an evolving world. However, ensuring the greatest impact where the need is also greatest requires a holistic understanding of the care delivery landscape, and thus close collaboration between health care organizations and innovators.
Rick Burnett, PharmD, FACHE, is the COO of CompleteRx and leads the day-to-day operations delivery for customers. With more than 25 years of experience in hospital pharmacy management, Rick has worked in a variety of sets from small rural hospitals to multisystem academic settings and is currently a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.
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