At a fundamental level, medical technology is the practical application of the scientific body of knowledge produced by biomedical research. When growth in scientific knowledge is applied for the purpose of improving medical care, it leads to advanced techniques for a more precise diagnosis, more effective and less invasive therapies. Medical technology is seen to be a double-edged sword because in one respect it allows research to develop sophisticated diagnostic procedures, which then develop “cures” to increase longevity and quality of life. This new technology comes at the tremendous cost of conducting that developmental research.
Then once this technology is available, there are costs associated with training staff to use it properly, facility upgrading and a higher demand from consumers and physicians for the utilization of the new technology (Shi & Singh, 2008). Technology has helped find cures for so many diseases and that is where the cost does kick in. Not all technological advancements are created equal; and add a tremendous strain to health care spending. Electronic Health Records (EHR) replace the traditional paper records and help to streamline patient care by making it possible to access, share and edit patients’ records more efficiently.
Widespread adoption of EHR will eventually lead to savings in health care costs. In the United States, the non-governmental and highly influential Institute of Medicine (IOM) has committed to a technology-led system reform and urged “a renewed national commitment to building an information infrastructure to support health care delivery, consumer health, quality measurement and improvement, public accountability, clinical and health services research, and clinical education. ” (Gunter & Terry, 2005) With that said, group practices with 50 or more physicians are more likely to use EHR.
Electronic Medical Records do help many facilities speed up the process in seeing patients and sharing the information with other doctors when need be. Many medical errors have been omitted thanks to all the templates to be edited and electronic send of medications to pharmacies. Clinical trials are another form of technological advancements in health care. They help improve medical care and lead to more effective and less invasive therapeutic and preventive procedures (Shi & Singh, 2008).
With any trials, there may be unpleasant, serious or even life threatening side effects associated with experimental treatment. The experiment may or may not benefit the patient and the protocol might require more time and effort than a non-protocol treatment (Understanding Clinical Trials: Why participate in a clinical trial? ). There can even be social, ethical and legal issues, which public and private insurers face when deciding whether or not to cover novel treatments.
Recent challenges include decisions about stem cell research, reproductive techniques, such as in-vitro fertilization and new drugs. Along with cost, there are several other factors in assessing medical technology, such as efficacy, safety, and cost effectiveness/ benefit. Efficacy is defined as the health benefit derived from the use of technology. The question of the benefit seems simple but there are also factors recognized yet not easily measured.
IE: the same technology employed by different caregivers can sometimes yield different results, although variations can be minimized by education (Shi & Singh, 2008). Conversely, if a new technology is clinically effective by providing some benefit (safely) to the patient but the cost is too high, then it is not cost effective. The monetary price tag is not the only governing factor; there are resource outputs/inputs, staff time, space requirements and degree of specialization which all need to be considered.
The key is having relevant outcomes from the research and the technology stemming from it. In deciding whether to pay for new medical technologies, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is becoming more specific about its requirements for evidence of improved health outcomes in the Medicare population (Neuman & Tunis, 2010). This is an overdue step that sets precedent on building emphasis on relevant evidence will have to continue in order to make the sure that fiduciary spending is responsible in regards to research.
Part of the solution will come from having a more transparent, timely, and participatory process. This must include Congress and the CMS working together to improve regulations. In Addition, part of the solution will also come from smarter design and implementation of clinical trials. The CMS agency has experimented with a policy of “coverage with evidence development,” which enables Medicare to cover the use of promising technologies for patients enrolled in studies that will better determine a technology’s risks and benefits (Neuman & Tunis).
There is compelling evidence in favor and against technological advancements in health care. However, with the mindset of an evidence-based approach to clinical trials along with using proven protocols in technology, health professionals can make sure that their research is relevant. It is also up to regulators to make sure that responsible spending is at the forefront without sacrificing patient care. Technology must advance in order to develop better care and subsequently improve quality of life, but it must be considered on a case-by-case basis.