Guest Column | December 26, 2017

Reducing Misdiagnosis: Healthcare Technology Set To Save Thousands Of Lives And Billions Of Dollars

By Michael Hough, executive vice president of Advance Medical, Inc.

Doctor and patient

Digital transformation holds promise to solve many problems across industries – but one that may seem less obvious is misdiagnosis, one of the largest challenges in health care.

The health industry is losing hundreds of billions of dollars from misdiagnosis alone, creating a lasting economic impact on the United States (U.S.) health care system. According to studies cited by the National Center for Policy Analysis, an estimated 10-20 percent of cases are misdiagnosed, occasionally causing death or permanent disability. Misdiagnosis also has a profound effect on the people who are being misdiagnosed as well as their caregivers and loved ones. Diagnostic errors impact over 12 million patients annually – that is equivalent to one misdiagnosis out of every 20 diagnoses. Additionally, Advance Medical found that 39 percent of a self-selecting group of medical advocacy seekers are misdiagnosed.

Directly related to this challenge, utilization management tools that help insurers know they are paying for the correct care are adding to the battleground where the war on escalating health care costs is being fought. A successful treatment requires – at the very basic level – a two pronged process: first, the doctor must make the correct diagnosis and secondly, the physician must recommend the correct treatment for that diagnosis. There are new technologies to help reduce exhaustion, allowing doctors to galvanize their personal knowledge-base to make thorough, efficient and correct diagnoses.

From the doctor’s point of view, the recent increase of large quantities of patient data that physicians must sort through has increased the rate of physician burnout – from the many hours of working with electronic health records. According to a Northwestern University study, physicians now spend one-third of their time looking at computer screens when they have electronic health records (EHRs) in their exam room. This is compared to the nine percent of time looking at records that physicians using paper charts spent, allowing time to give more accurate diagnoses and treatments. Additionally, an Annals study shared that physicians spend 27.0 percent of their total time with patients and 49.2 percent of their time on EHR and desk work. It takes a doctor two times as long to see a patient as it did 10 years ago, spending up to 80 percent of their time inputting and analyzing data.

Such technologies will be able to integrate data providing its insights, connect patients to multiple doctors for third-party opinions, and connect physicians to other doctors to secure higher accuracy diagnostics by having multiple brains converge to find an appropriate treatment for the correctly diagnosed disease. Using tools like patient portals and data management technology in conjunction with a culture shift in knowledge and data sharing can reduce physician exhaustion and thus, misdiagnosis.

As shown by the unnerving statistics formerly presented, emerging digital technologies in health care are poised to save thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Technology is needed greatly to help create a more efficient and insightful diagnostic process for both patients and physicians. Technology is able to allow physicians time to analyze data and interact with patients by creating a culture shift in the medical world to increase the use of second opinions. One example that is a health care benefit, currently used by top Fortune 100 and 500 companies, is Expert Medical Opinion, the first and only employee benefits service that gives its customers’ employees direct 1:1 access to physician case managers (via digital portal and phone) for a second opinion to verify or question their primary care doctor’s advice on their health.

All patient data can be seen in one place online for both the physician and patient with Advance Medical’s award-winning patient portal. Advance Medical helps with rapid retrieval of medical records through their patient portal technology, allowing 17 percent within one day and 72 percent within the first week. The ability to instantaneously see all information related to a single patient via portal technologies allows physicians to have a more accurate and holistic view of the problem through more precise data and thus helping the reduction of misdiagnosis and treatment. This technology also aids the knowledge sharing between doctors, creating a cultural shift of having more than one way communication from doctor to patient, allowing conversations between physicians and between patients and physicians to help gather, examine, and deliver the best possible care. In order to increase access to second opinions, the medical world needs to welcome and apply these technologies while creating a knowledge sharing shift to decrease the risk of misdiagnosis.

Improving care with technologies like Advance Medical saves money and lives. Specifically, Advance Medical found savings of: $10,000 per case (this does not rely on downstream medical consequences, cost of revisions, productivity), 29 percent of patients yielded less intensive therapy, 20 percent of surgeries were avoided, and they secured a 15 percent reduction in medication across patients. The Advance Medical example is a greater metaphor for the broader health system showing that: the wasted dollar amount and the risk for a lower quality of life were significantly decreased by reducing the number of appointments, incorrect diagnoses, unnecessary treatments, increased diagnostic testing, missed time at work, corrective treatments, and questioning the right treatment (trial and error).

All in all the digital transformation upsurge applied to health care via technology, and second opinion services like Advance Medical, will help all segments of the health care system, including but not limited to physicians, patients, and providers. Reducing misdiagnosis through health care technology will save the U.S. thousands of lives and billions of dollars.