Even years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the American health care industry continues to stumble. Our current health care policies are much improved from the archaic systems before President Barack Obama’s tenure, but many remaining issues still cause trouble for health care professionals, patients, and policymakers alike. Medical literacy among the public remains low, which only serves to increase wasteful spending on tests, treatments, and time. Worse, health care costs continue to rise, often preventing the affordable care that the ACA intended.
One of the main reasons legislators hesitate to make changes to the ACA (or instigate another full-fledged policy reform) is the speed at which modern health care becomes unrecognizable. The pace of modern technology is generally a boon to health care providers and patients, but as medical practices shift toward the digital, policymakers are often at a loss for how to regulate properly. Those who wish to impact health care reform would do well to understand the following four problems thwarting its progress.
1. Tech Advances
We have progressed well past the days when doctors visited homes of the sick armed with painkillers and sharp knives; now, futuristic-seeming tech like lasers, sensors, and robots are integral to helping people heal. In fact, with the last decade, the advances to medical technology have become so extreme, incorporating genomics, biotech, and 3-D printing among other experimental care that many health care providers can barely keep up with the innovation, let alone politicians responsible for policy.
These exciting technological developments promise great improvements in quality of care and patient outcomes, but without legislative support for innovative procedures, few patients are likely to receive progressive care, and the industry as a whole could stagnate. Health care facilities greatly benefit from hosting experts who can speak on the topic of health care reform to educate providers, patients, and politicians on the importance of matching progress with proper policies.
2. Data Ownership
Anyone who has visited a doctor’s office — which is to say everyone — is aware that health care facilities gather and store an overabundance of information from each and every patient. Nearly every doctor’s office, hospital, clinic, and care center asks for detailed a medical history, including important health events of parents and siblings, and the resulting interaction between provider and patient generates even more medical data that is stored on various networks. However, after patients leave the examination room, few consider where that knowledge goes and who has access to it.
Currently, there is only weak protection of medical information. Medical professionals who collect the data, patients who are subjects of the data, and other related parties, like guardians, powers of attorney, and payers (such as insurance companies) are granted access to any and all pertinent health-related information. Legislatures should institute strict ownership rights and create a single system where medical data is available. Of course, such a substantial piece of software would be expensive to produce and maintain, which is thwarting effective health care reform.
3. Data Value
In recent years, data has shown to be immensely valuable: Facebook, a company built on data, is worth more than $200 billion, while United Airlines, which owns real physical capital in the form of airplanes and airport space, is worth only $34 billion. Medical data, which contains intimate details many organizations could use to improve care and treatment, is worth even more than Facebook.
As yet, the merely tentative grasp on health information ownership prevents the monetizing of those assets by patients themselves, though a number of states utilize the value of data to sell patient info today. With the enactment of a systematized aggregation as described above, the buying and selling of medial data could benefit the market in extremely favorable ways. We already have the technology to create a structure for the profitable exchange of data and wealth — but the government has yet to catch up with appropriate legislation.
4. Patient Confidentiality
It may seem that the issue of data ownership is answered by the tried-and-true law of patient confidentiality — but in reality, privacy and ownership are separate concepts. For example, facilities that believe they own patient information can sell that data, minus names and identification numbers, to nearly anyone. As medical data ownership continues to remain unclear, laws requiring doctor-patient confidentiality become weaker. Worse, the digitization of data may expose private health and payment information to prying hackers looking to commit fraud.
Instead, the best solution is to embrace the enhancements technology offers the medical field. By reforming health care to include a secure system of medical data, patients can elect to remain wholly confidential or waive whichever rights they deem appropriate for their medical and financial aims. Firm confidentiality laws paralyze the spread of information that helps everyone obtain better medical treatment; a flexible data structure is the reform the U.S. needs to heal its broken health care system.