How Technology Can Improve Patient Outcomes While Reducing Financial Burdens

New interdisciplinary approaches to treatment include rebalancing the scales and exploring non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as dietary changes, exercise, and medical devices, to work alongside or instead of traditional care management techniques.

Health care professionals regularly have to judge whether they can cure patients of a medical condition or manage the condition to enable them to live the best life they can. Many pharmaceutical interventions and treatment options are designed to manage people’s illnesses, however, they are not necessarily a cure.

There are many medical conditions that have been difficult to cure from a historical perspective, from diabetes to high blood pressure, for which a maintenance approach to treatment has been the only option. However, this is expensive and challenging, both in terms of medicine and clinical resources.

Curing a condition is better than management, because managing these conditions can result in an increased burden on the health care system. This is particularly applicable as people live longer and the proportion of illnesses that are manageable increase versus those that are curable.1

A New Approach

New interdisciplinary approaches to treatment include rebalancing the scales and exploring non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as dietary changes, exercise, and medical devices, to work alongside or instead of traditional care management techniques.

An example of this would be in the treatment process for leg ulcers. According to the Wound Healing Society, 15% of older adults in the United States suffer from chronic wounds, including predominantly venous stasis ulcers, pressure ulcers, and diabetic foot ulcers.

Every year, up to 3 million more Americans are diagnosed with various types of chronic wounds, with the annual cost of treating venous ulcers alone to the US health care system estimated to be $2.5 to $3.5 billion, which highlights the sheer scale of the growing problem.

These wounds often take months of traditional treatment to heal, and for health care professionals, managing the condition and its symptoms is a huge therapeutic challenge. It may require regular visits from health care professionals, which is expensive and time consuming. As the incidence of ulceration rises due to the aging population, and increased risk factors such as smoking and diabetes, so does the cost of intervention.

New medical technology devices offer an alternative because many of these devices can not only maintain people’s wellbeing, but provide a permanent treatment to chronic medical conditions. This new breed of technology has the potential to deliver better patient outcomes at a lower cost.

The Age of MedTech

Technology has been one of the most significant disruptors to society. From Amazon in retail to new competitors banks in financial services, technology-first businesses are aiming to achieve both cost reduction and improved efficiencies.

In health care systems, technology is increasingly being seen as the key to reducing financial pressure while enhancing patient outcomes simultaneously. Implementing new medical devices into health care systems is challenging, because it requires time, money, clinical data, regulatory approval, and support from clinicians within the system.

Using the example of leg ulcers, clinical data now demonstrates that by increasing blood circulation to wound surfaces to enhance oxygen and nutrient delivery,1 ulcers can be cured rather than simply managed, with wounds closing in a matter of weeks as opposed to months or not at all.

Managing the care of patients with these types of conditions is always complex, but after receiving regulatory approval from the FDA, bioelectronic medical devices that increase blood flow in the lower limbs are now being deployed by forward-thinking clinicians to treat patients with the condition.2 This has dramatically reduced the financial and staffing impact on the health care system while achieving improved results for the patients.3

Instead of requiring nurses to attend people’s homes 3 times a week to assess and redress ulcers, connected devices have the potential to monitor patients remotely and provide feedback data to health care providers enabling them to manage treatment plans and focus resource where it is most needed.

Reshaping Health Care

The current challenge is reshaping how health care systems reward positive outcomes to allow new solutions to continue to be adopted effectively, which rewards innovation and risk without reducing the impact of what already exists.

The US health care system presents a unique landscape because the process of paying for health care products or services is managed by either private commercial health insurers or public government payers. Traditionally, health care providers operate a fee-for-service model, which means they are paid separately for each service they provide regardless of whether that service leads to a positive and lasting outcome. For patients suffering with chronic conditions that require long-term care, specifically in wound care, this can result in expensive medical bills over a long period of time.

The US government has already legislated for change, which has led to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services starting an episode-based approach to treatment and payment. With episode-based payments, the cost for a patient’s care related to any single medical issue is predetermined versus having to pay separately for each service and provider.

Based on the projected costs, a single amount is issued to all health care providers and institutions working on the same case. This will include physicians, hospitals, nurses, medical equipment providers, and post-acute care operators. The more effectively health care providers control expenses and stay within the budgeted amount, the better they share in the savings generated.

This approach means it is in the interests of both the patient and the provider to adopt the best possible treatment plan using the most effective medical technologies in the attempt to cure the patient’s condition.

A Brighter Future

Medical technology is uniquely placed to help facilitate positive change in health care, especially in the United States. Instead of trying to ensure the adoption of new innovations within the confines of the previous system, the health care system is actively fostering adoption of new, innovative solutions.

The hope is that this important shift will not only enable more investment in the development of new medical technologies, but will help decrease the pressure on the entire health care operation, creating a brighter, more effective, and affordable system for all.

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