Throughout American history, there have been several technological breakthroughs: Electricity, cars, and antibiotics have all led to a seismic shift in the economy.
But research has shown that the dawning of the digital age has had no such effect. Pondering this phenomenon (or lack of one), The New York Times points the finger at, among other possible factors, the almost embarrassing lack of economic improvement computers have had on the medical industry.
The Times offers other explanations: The ease with which computer users can switch from work to play without moving a large muscle, for instance; and the yawning gap among various industries in the success or failure of their adaption to new technologies.
The medical field is among the latest to the tech party and the worst in terms of harnessing the power of technology to drive higher economic returns. It’s well documented that President Obama had to basically force the medical industry to accept electronic health records. Billions of tax dollars were invested in the effort. Whether they were wisely invested is a fair question, according to The Times article.
“The government funding has made a huge difference,” Dr. Ashish Jha, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, told The Times. “But we’re seeing little evidence so far that all this technology has had much effect on quality and costs.”
The tales from the dark side of putting those systems in place were myriad, as IT struggled with HR to overcome privacy concerns that blocked compliance with emerging health records laws. Many health care providers believe that they never will recoup the money they invested in the systems, and they certainly can’t retrieve the endless hours they spent trying to get their systems to function properly.
The current demand on the industry — that data be seamlessly shared electronically — has also been met with resistance and a noted lack of success. And the potential for economic explosion once predicted for digital health aids, or “wearables,” has yet to detonate into measurable contributions to the health care sector.
Yet, The Times suggests, the jury may still be out on whether the computer age will leave its economic watermark on American history. Even the medical field may yet unlock the key to economic deliverables from technology. And if not, says a Tennessee physician interviewed by The Times, technology has at least improved people’s health. “My patients are better served,” he says. “And I’m happier.”