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How can emerging tech change health care?

Health Care and Health Insurance
by Kevin Ruggeberg
There is plenty of recent data to suggest that the health care industry as a whole is seeing costs rise to potentially unwieldy levels, leading to more difficulty for consumers.
There is plenty of recent data to suggest that the health care industry as a whole is seeing costs rise to potentially unwieldy levels, leading to more difficulty for consumers.

There is plenty of recent data to suggest that the health care industry as a whole is seeing costs rise to potentially unwieldy levels, leading to more difficulty for consumers. As a consequence, those in the health sector itself and also the tech industry are now working toward solutions that will help keep costs down but the qualify of care high, and significant innovations could be on the way as a result.

One such innovation is a new type of blood sugar reader for people suffering from diabetes developed by Abbott that continually reads their glucose levels on an ongoing basis as a means of keeping their costs down and ensuring they can live healthy and active lifestyles, according to TIME Magazine. This came as a result of listening to diabetic patients about the issues they faced with older iterations of glucose monitors that had to be checked manually.

Initially, Abbott's attempts to develop a continuous glucose monitor were too costly to be effective solutions for patients, but it stuck with development and finally churned out a product that worked for all involved, the report said. This could be seen as part of a larger trend within the medical community to more directly address patient needs as a means of keeping costs under control.

Why is this important?
When health care providers are able to better meet patients on their own level, rather than simply putting them through the process of receiving care in a way that suits the provider's preordained system, they tend to see better outcomes, the report said. As a consequence, some health systems have made a point of holding forums and other events with patients, so that decision-makers can better understand the hoops through which some people - particularly those with chronic issues that need regular treatment - have to jump to get the care they need.

The thinking is that by smoothing out this process of better meeting patient needs, care providers can encourage them to seek care more often, which will help all involved save potentially large sums of money in the long run, the report said. Likewise, when doctors and other medical professionals better understand the various costs of the treatments or tests they prescribe, they are more likely to find a reasonable solution that makes sense with respect to cost as well.

Big data is a vital frontier for the health care industry.Big data is a vital frontier for the health care industry.

Going high-tech
Meanwhile, other aspects of the health care industry that aren't patient-facing are likewise undergoing some radical changes these days, as providers look for new ways to spot trends among patients, according to Fortune. At a recent industry conference hosted by the magazine, a number of leaders talked about the importance of harnessing big data and artificial intelligence to unlock previously invisible insights into potential inefficiencies within the entire industry, from the macro to micro levels.

This is especially important as more of the health care process is being digitized in the form of electronic health records, which can occasionally be problematic on an individual basis but overall can provide a lot of potential areas for improvement, the report said. Now, companies with a serious stake in interpreting this kind of "big data" - such as IBM's Watson Health - are working toward making that broad-based information more usable, and interpreting it to improve care, health outcomes and costs.

The future of care
This kind of innovation seems to be something consumers overwhelmingly want to see come into regular practice among health care providers, according to a recent poll from Accenture. While only about 1 in 5 consumers say they have any familiarity with health-related artificial intelligence, almost everyone polled said they see a positive application for at least some type of AI in health care. 

Among the most popular of these answers are a device that automatically tests patients' blood at home, a virtual health assistant or virtual nurse, and technology that analyzes DNA for potential health risks down the line, the report said. Meanwhile, 3 in 4 respondents indicated that the technological advancements made in artificial intelligence over the past few years would likely help them better manage their health overall going forward.

Indeed, many further indicated that they were willing to do more to help companies develop broad-based solutions with respect to data collection, the survey found. For instance, 90 percent said they were comfortable sharing information gathered from wearable technology with their doctors, and nearly as many said the same about nurses and other health care professionals. Furthermore, nearly three-quarters said they would feel comfortable giving that data to a health insurance company.

Most of all, what consumers seem to want from their health care is the ability to keep their costs down but their quality of care high. When companies can help them meet those needs, all involved are likely to be in a far better position going forward.

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