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April 25, 2017

The Paradox of Simplifying Healthcare

In their ideal forms, healthcare and technology should not be complicated. However, there’s an interesting tension at their intersection in which technology doesn’t always seem to simplify matters in healthcare. In other industries, technology creates value by streamlining workflows, freeing up time, and generally reducing complexity. Virtual administrative assistants can automatically coordinate calendars to schedule appointments, and collaboration tools have enabled more effective remote and asynchronous communication. 

Yet, in healthcare, technological advancements don't always result in more streamlined and simple workflows, and sometimes add in extra steps for busy providers.

Here are 3 reasons why this paradox exists in healthcare: 

  1. Different expectations of technology
    In the typical B2B2C health tech company, there exists an enterprise that pays for a product or service and a consumer that uses it. In healthcare, different incentives and perceptions of value between the various users produce different expectations of how the product should be used. The gap and differences in these expectations often puts conflicting pressures on the technology and products that successful companies in health tech have to resolve. As a result, technology-enabled products in healthcare become more complex.

  2. Complexity and fragmentation of data
    Healthcare data is complicated for several reasons. Perhaps one of the root causes of this complexity is that the original purpose of electronic healthcare data was not to be shared in a consistent format across the healthcare continuum, but rather as a data capturing tool. It is because of this that we often see the same data represented in different formats and in different locations. A broken arm might be an image in the clinical context, but a specific ICD-10 code when represented as claims data. Without a shared and cohesive structure to capture and thread all of these different formats, data becomes difficult to analyze and aggregate in a consistent manner.

  3. Simplifying healthcare workflows can produce complexity
    The very act of simplifying workflows in healthcare can produce short-term complexity even if there is long-term value in the intended simplicity. Change in healthcare risks diverting time and resources toward a new workflow and creates relatively high switching costs. Additionally, the amount of speciailization in healthcare creates more diverse and nuanced stakeholders that unintentionally creates friction against simplification with more hurdles for health tech companies to get over. 

With an increase of patient-generated data in the coming years, the challenge of using technology to simplify, rather than complicate healthcare won't get any easier. But, more resources and collaborative forces are now working together to consolidate and simplify healthcare. As the industry trends toward more coordinated and effective care, we can hope for a more simple, seamless, and connected future. 

Tagged: healthtech, health technology, healthIT, clinical workflows

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