The “How Does Technology Transform the Practice of Medicine?” panel at the Techonomy Health conference in May. From left, Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick, Dr. Brian Donley of Cleveland Clinic, and Brent Shafer, CEO of Philips North America

Improving medical technology and increasing access to it will be essential for reducing American healthcare costs and producing better outcomes for patients, said Brian Donley, chief of staff at Cleveland Clinic, and Brent Shafer, CEO of Philips North America at Techonomy Health. Their conversation, moderated by Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick, focused on how advances in tech will alter the way patients receive care. (See the session on video here.)
The executives shared several examples of tangible impact on patient health. At the Cleveland Clinic, one project focused on using technology to monitor and analyze blood pressure control for a large group of patients, and intervene with them when indicators suggested increased risk even if they showed no apparent ill health. In two years, the fraction of patients with successfully-controlled blood pressure ticked up from 67 percent to 73 percent. That was not a huge increase, conceded Donley, noting that the program aims to get to 90 percent. But even that small change made significant difference. Across these 160,000 patients, it meant 10,000 of them were healthier. “That’s 131 people who did not have a stroke,” Donley said. “That’s 71 people that didn’t have a heart attack, and it’s about 70 who didn’t have earlier death!”
Shafer recounted a clinical study Philips performed in partnership with a Banner Health system in Arizona. The clinic’s goal was to reduce hospital readmission for patients with chronic conditions. By applying in-home and wearable technology that allowed hospital staff to monitor patients not only in the ICU but after they’d been released as well, the program resulted in a 40 percent decrease in readmissions, a 20 percent decrease in mortality, and a 30 percent drop in costs.
Shafer and Donley agreed that partnering across a range of health care organizations is a critical part of the equation, even though that remains hard today in American healthcare. “There are some complex problems that all of us face,” said Donley. “We must collaborate with industry, provider, payer, and the disruptive innovator.” He noted that his clinic’s focus is on improving access to and quality of care, as well as reducing costs. “Cost always goes down as quality improves,” he added.
With the costs of healthcare spiraling out of control and around 75 million baby boomers approaching an era when chronic conditions will cause them to require more and more care, there is tremendous pressure to realize such improvements right now. But Shafer cautioned that technology alone isn’t enough. “In many cases the technology’s not the barrier,” he said. “It’s how we think about it, how reimbursement works, how we deliver care.”