The Future of Emerging Technology and Medicine

Prior to the official opening day for Medicine X (Med X) at Stanford, the Med X staff organized an event called the Medicine X Health Innovation Summit. The goal of the event was to bring together patients, providers, health care researchers, and entrepreneurs to engage in a day of interdisciplinary collaboration. Jonathan Bush, CEO of athenahealth, spoke about the serious need to integrate digital health data and break down the data silos that are pervasive in health care. Christine Lemke, Chief Product Officer at Evidation Health, described how hard it can be to become an established innovator in an extremely fragmented system. The speaker I found to be most compelling was Robert Wachter, Chief of Medical Service and Chief of the Division of Hospital Medicine at UCSF Medical Center.

Dr. Watchter began by describing the two biggest challenges health care is currently facing. First, is the pressure to deliver high quality care. According to Robert, we are already accomplishing this goal. The second and larger pressure concerns the digitization of the U.S. health care system, which has resulted in a dramatic shift in how care is delivered today. No longer do you see physicians on the hospital floor taking care of their patients. Now they spend most of their time in a shared office room typing in front of a computer.

The reason why this has occurred is because the digitization of a process will cause the process to change. Digitization allows for distribution at essentially no cost. Social relationships and communication patterns evolve. Power relationships over the control of the process will be renegotiated.

These changes may seem daunting, but are not necessarily so. My biggest takeaway was the need to consider how potential innovations can alter processes for good — or for bad. It will be critical for health care innovators to ensure the process changes have positive downstream effects. According to Dr. Wachter, the ability to unleash the power of IT depends on two key fundamentals: better technology and reimagined work with new ideas. Ultimately, it is not solely about the technology, but how the technology facilitates more meaningful relationships for patients and providers while simultaneously improving care and outcomes.