We all know how technology has changed health care – mostly for the better. More advanced equipment and its appropriate use have led to improved outcomes for patients. But used incorrectly, technology can also create all sorts of problems. For instance, new technology can lead to costly unnecessary testing that not only adds to the cost of healthcare but also can cause increased complications. This has time and again – most recently with screening total body CAT scans – been shown to be the case when inappropriate imaging is used as a screening tool.
That's why as patients and practioners, all of us must be more aware of the role Big Technology is moving toward in health care. With Apple, Google and Microsoft, leading the way, tech giants have transformed the way we live work and play. Add in the announcement last week, that Google. J.P. Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway are teaming up to further disrupt health care. These companies are increasingly and rapidly embracing health-tracking apps and want a bigger cut of what the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) say is the more than $3 trillion spent annually on health care in the United States.
As a business strategy, developing and buying apps (the announcements seem to come almost weekly now) that tap into this huge market makes total sense for these companies. But as a provider or patient, it must be asked if this is a good approach to better care. It all depends as these companies accelerate their efforts to remake health care by developing or collaborating on new tools for consumers, patients, doctors, insurers and medical researchers.
The apps which continuously monitor our bodies – think about your smart watch or Fitbit – could well be helpful in capturing vast amounts of data to be analyzed, helping to reduce illnesses and extend quality of life for many. But they also might send people for unneeded tests or procedures, which have inherent risks and can, create unnecessary worries.
What's more, easy access to medical data for patients is great, but if information is not reviewed in conjunction with the appropriate health care provider it can mislead patients and send them down the wrong path. The solution for this is the patient-physician relationship that allows patients to discuss with their medical providers what the information they have captured through their devices means and then jointly make health care decisions.
Beyond the diagnostic tools available to physicians these apps open the process to collect more data about peoples' health and aggregate to learn more about Americans' medical trends. Certainly, big tech companies already control so much information about each of us; concern over privacy of our health data can be an issue. However, as long as data is blinded so no personal identifiers are included, it should not be a concern for the individual and the potential benefits, in terms of research leading to improved treatments, could be tremendous.