Emerging technology helps ensure best practices while reducing costs of care
Quality health care should be accessible to everyone, but systemic inequities stand as intractable roadblocks for too many seeking access to needed care and services. The National Library of Medicine lists a broad range of dimensional factors including social, economic, environmental, and structural disparities among and between demographic groups that negatively affect people’s living conditions, access to health care, and overall health status.
In addition to their impact on health outcomes, inequities are costly and highly inefficient. The annual cost associated with addressing health inequities in Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American communities is staggering, ranging from $54 to $61 billion.
Health inequities’ shadow reaches chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, obstructive pulmonary disease, and diabetes. One hundred thirty-three million Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease, which causes more than 1.7 million deaths per year. The CDC reports that chronic conditions are the leading driver of the $4.1 trillion annual total health care expenditure in the United States.
In addition, economic productivity suffers under the weight of inequity in care. When calculating total expenditures – including direct costs paid by individuals, families, insurance companies, and employers and indirect costs associated with work absences, lost wages, and economic productivity—the cost of chronic diseases reaches $3.7 trillion per annum, which is roughly 19.6% of the United States’ gross domestic product.
Research done by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute highlighted that differences in burden of disease cut across racial/ethnic groups, socioeconomic status, and place of residence. For example:
Access to quality, evidence-based health care—addressing either chronic disease treatment, emergency care services, or a routine check-up—should be available to all. The problem is large-scale and urgent—and with no silver bullet, the solutions will need to be multifaceted and layered. Advancing technology may be a key part of the solution. With the ability now to harness evidence-based data and treatment protocols with the best-expected outcomes, resources and care can be directed at scale to the populations needing them most.
Optimizing treatment at scale
One way to address inequities is to ensure that each patient receives the most updated standard of care through the use of treatment-validation technology.
Not only can treatment validation platforms ensure best practice treatments, they also enable consistent care and identify it efficiently. Designed to optimize outcomes, these platforms help providers bypass lengthy (and often costly) trial and error methods while coordinating in real time with payers. They enable providers to compare thousands of evidence-based, nationally endorsed treatment options and clinical trials intelligently and automatically while empowering payers to validate and accept treatment regimens more quickly via shared, trusted evidence-based resources. Saving time and securing the optimal treatment are imperative.
Treatment validation platforms can be used in autoimmune diseases where earlier diagnosis and effective treatment may help to stave off later, debilitating chronic effects of disease, such as disability from arthritis or cardiovascular complications from lupus. Arthritis diagnosis and care is an area where providers, especially primary care practitioners, can implement advanced evidence-based treatment decisions—creating more consistency in care while simultaneously reducing unneeded or less effective treatments and the costs associated with them.
The majority of arthritis patients do not visit their rheumatologist. Rather, they call upon primary care providers, such as family practitioners, internists, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. A leading factor in work disability, an estimated 25.7 million adults are limited in daily activity due to the effects of arthritis. Identified as the second leading cause of employee health costs, arthritis results in 172 million missed workdays and $304 billion in lost earnings and medical expenses per year.
Treatment validation supports equity
Treatment validation technology offers a conduit for scaling equity in care. Regardless of geography or the patient’s health care system, these platforms offer consistent, rapid treatment validation, supporting uniform, improved outcomes while reducing overall expenditures.
Treating arthritis—as well as other chronic conditions—can help level the playing field via systematic evidence-based treatment. While it does not solve for the societal factors that make populations more vulnerable to disease, it can ensure that provider decisions align with evidence-based protocols. It can translate into providers meeting the patient’s diagnosis with appropriate, validated care. While better treatment does not decrease the incidence of disease, it can help to reduce disparities in care. It’s a valuable tool and a much-needed step in the long journey towards equitable health for all.
Tiffany Avery, M.D. is chief medical officer for NantHealth.