Is Technology a Mixed Bag for Healthcare Companies?

Economic worrywarts like to paint technology as some omnipotent force of disruption: a metaphorical Terminator, methodically hunting down and snuffing out jobs, processes, entire industries.

There’s plenty of reason to be worried about the human impacts of technological advancement, particularly as computers get better at handling tasks once reserved for humans. But that doesn’t mean whole industries need recoil reflexively every time a new tool or process is introduced. Certainly not industries as large and diverse as healthcare — right?

My friends [in the healthcare industry] are probably most concerned with the challenges posed by regulatory uncertainty and payer fragmentation,” says Lovell Communications president and CEO Rosemary Plorin, whose firm works closely with dozens of healthcare organizations. “However, technology has dramatically changed many healthcare systems and processes that were once taken for granted, and anyone who’s been paying attention over the past 10 years or so has to be worried about the next shoe to drop.”

Plorin’s clients play in virtually every major healthcare niche, so she’s seen some of these changes — and the worry they’ve induced — firsthand. We asked Plorin what what she expects for the industry’s most visible institutions, and here’s what we found out.

Hospitals

Ask a layperson what “healthcare” means to them, and they’re likelier than not to mention hospitals in their response.

Experts see a few big changes coming down the pike for American hospitals. First, automation is likely to eliminate many entry-level jobs. “Machines still aren’t great at the sorts of fine-grained, person-to-person work performed by medical assistants,” says Plorin, “but you may start to see porters, cleaners, and other maintenance and logistics functionaries replaced in the coming decades.”

A more positive change: fewer medical errors, thanks to better EMRs and quality control systems.

Skilled Nursing & Long-Term Care Facilities

Thanks to new and improved medical devices and implants, the types and quality of care delivered by skilled nursing and long-term care facilities are set to change radically. But the biggest change could actually happen (in part) beyond these facilities’ walls.

Telemedicine is top of mind for my skilled nursing and long-term care partners right now,” says Plorin. “Telepresence technology makes it easier than ever for physicians and nurse practitioners to consult with, evaluate and diagnose patients remotely, without ever setting foot in far-flung facilities.”

Telemedicine holds particular promise for rural and small-town SNFs and LTCFs, which have struggled for years to staff high-level practitioners and other medical staff at state-mandated ratios.

Diagnostics

Diagnostics is experiencing a full-blown revolution the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the advent of germ theory. It’s driven by a confluence of factors, including increasingly powerful consumer-facing apps that connect patients and doctors more seamlessly than ever, and vastly improved genetic science that makes the tantalizing dream of personalized medicine closer than at any time in history.

Diagnostic technology is cheaper, more reliable and more accurate than ever before,” says Plorin. “It’s an exciting time to be in this space.”

Is Innovation Ever Unwelcome?

The debate rages as to whether the cutting edge of technological advancement, and the increasingly realistic proposition that the distinctions between biological and artificial intelligence will blur or even disappear within the lifetimes of children born today, threatens human society as we know it. Is there ever a point at which responsible innovations should intentionally quash their creations, or choose not to follow a line of inquiry that’s likely to lead somewhere dark?

Though this question goes far beyond the healthcare implications of near-term technological change, current and future healthcare leaders will have to wrestle with it more than most. Today’s concerns, by contrast, seem like a mere warmup for the main event.

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