More than half of Americans suffer from one or more chronic diseases, and the most common chronic diseases cost the economy more than $1 trillion annually, a cost which could rise to $6 trillion by the middle of this century. Our current health care system is designed to provide acute care, and it does not do a good job of disease prevention or treating chronically ill patients.
New technologies combined with new ways of delivering and organizing care can save lives and money. Technology can provide frequent communication between patients and caregivers, remotely monitor a patient’s vital signs, offer personalized patient guidance and education, help ensure that caregivers are following evidence-based practice guidelines, and improve the coordination of care between multiple providers.
Information technology has played an important role in the startling improvements in the quality of care provided by the Veterans Health Administration. As author Phillip Longman at the New American Foundation observes, health IT systems “remind doctors to prescribe appropriate care for patients when they leave the hospital, such as beta blockers for heart attack victims, or eye exams for diabetics. It also keeps track of which vets are due for a flu shot, a breast cancer screen, or other follow-up care—a task virtually impossible to pull off using paper records.”
The IT industry has estimated that Medicare could save $30 billion and avoid 1.7 million hospitalizations by implementing a similar chronic care improvement program for its highest risk 4 million patients. More research is needed to improve the underlying technology, to identify which approaches are cost-effective and lead to improvements in the quality of care, and to determine what incentives, such as “paying for performance,” are needed to promote the broad adoption of these innovations.
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