The Role of Technology in Health Care

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on August 30, 2010

As policymakers consider new approaches to providing quality health care at a lower cost, information technology is expected to play a larger role. Some consider the role of new technologies in raising costs, others, the role of information management technology in reducing costs. Others track how health technology policies relate to broader issues such as privacy or network neutrality. 
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included funding for health technology to reduce costs and improve care. Health information technology (Health IT) includes software and hardware products used to help record and process data related to any medical process, from accounting and billing to diagnostics and treatment. Key technologies include Electronic health records (EHR), which give providers immediate access to patient records and provide a long-term record of care, or Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS), to store and process diagnostic images such as X-rays.

Studies suggest that information technology in health care can improve the quality of care and also reduce costs. Research by TAP academic James Rebitzer, together with Jonathan Javitt, and Lonny Reisman, showed that using software to track patient care could help doctors avoid problems resulting from “information overload.” The software created a profile of each patient and referred to treatment standards derived from medical studies to suggest treatments to the doctor. Patients’ outcomes improved, and the cost of care was reduced. The study is described in Information Technology and Medical Missteps: Evidence from a Randomized Trial. In Influence, Information Overload and Information Technology in Health Care, Professor Rebitzer, Mari Rege, and Christopher Shepard study whether software can alert doctors to cutting-edge medical research.

In April of 2010, at the conference for Regional Institutions for Innovation and Productivity, MIT Professor Eric Brynjolfsson discussed how information technology improved patient satisfaction with the process for filling prescriptions at a drug store chain’s thousands of locations.

TAP scholar Daniel P. Kessler is the author of many works on factors that contribute to poor health outcomes and high costs, including studies of treatment technology. Together with Christopher Afendulis, he wrote, "Tradeoffs from Integrating Diagnosis and Treatment in Markets for Health Care,” published in the American Economic Review, 2007. Earlier works include the 2002 book Technological Change in Health Care: A Global Analysis of Heart Attack, with Mark B. McClellan. This study reviews how the use of advanced technology in treating heart attacks relates to the costs of health care across several countries.
As information technology to support health care is deployed, scholars address related policy issues. Concerns about privacy or privacy regulation can affect how Health IT is deployed. Health privacy issues were addressed by the FTC in the Federal Trade Commission’s Roundtable on Consumer Privacy, as described in Basic Health IT Protection: Will Regulation Support Collaboration? Federal Trade Commission researchers Daniel J. Gilman and James C. Cooper discuss privacy issues in There is a Time to Keep Silent and a Time to Speak, the Hard Part is Knowing Which is Which: Striking the Balance between Privacy Protection and the Flow of Health Care Information. They examine potential conflicts between health technology, privacy, and security, and regulatory costs. TAP academic Anita Allen looks at how new media and cultural factors affect the privacy of patient’s medical information in her work, Face to Face With "It": And Other Neglected Contexts of Health Privacy
Broadband policy issues are also related to Health IT. TAP academic Jay Pil Choi, for example, discusses how net neutrality rules could affect the development of high-quality broadband services needed to transmit high-quality images for medical purposes in his paper Net Neutrality and Investment Incentives.

Several conferences discussing health information technology are anticipated for the remainder of 2010 and 2011. In the United States, events include those in San Francisco, California (October, 2010), Orlando, Florida (February, 2011), and Las Vegas, Nevada (April 11-13, 2011). Cape Town South Africa will host the13th World Congress on Medical and Health Informatics from September 12 – 15, 2010. Rome, Italy will be the site of the International Conference on Health Informatics to be held January 26-29, 2011.