Technological Breakthroughs in Health Care in Low Income Countries

The term “health technology” refers to the application of science and technology to improve the health of individuals. Technological advances in this field have produced medical and other devices that can help to diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases that have plagued mankind for centuries. Technological change has increased the speed, effectiveness, safety, and effectiveness of many processes that were once considered challenging or dangerous. For example, new and sophisticated diagnostic tools and equipment have made it possible to test for and detect almost every disease with a high degree of accuracy.

In spite of these new and innovative medical technologies, many diseases still continue to decline in numbers. Technological improvements have, however, made it easier for some to survive such diseases through early detection. Technological applications of healthcare include medical imaging and computerized tomography (CT) systems, diagnostic tools such as x-ray machines and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment, effective methods of drug administration and monitoring, improved surgical techniques, and the use of immunotherapies to prevent disease. In addition, advancements in some areas of medicine have led to more effective and efficient treatments for patients with cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

Medical devices are a key part of the healthcare industry and play an important role in managing healthcare. They have helped reduce the number of deaths due to illness and injury by improving diagnosis and treatment, reducing pain and suffering, preventing further harm, and improving patient care. Some examples of modern technologies in use to treat and prevent diseases include cardioprotective technologies, such as the use of ultrasound to cut open blocked arteries and promote cardiovascular health; automated intra-pleural pumps, which are used to deliver medications intravenously; magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to detect heart disease and create a three-dimensional image of the body; and advanced imaging technologies, such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging, to detect breast cancer and other diseases. Many of these newer technologies are being deployed on a wide scale in clinical and emergency care settings. While these devices and technologies have had great effect in saving lives and preventing disease, they have also created another problem: innovation risk.

Innovation risk refers to the danger that new medical devices and/or technologies will render the current health technologies ineffective or unreliable. Some areas of medicine are particularly prone to this risk, including internal medicine, where innovative drugs have been developed to treat previously un-treatable conditions. Innovation risks can be greatest in fast growing, developing countries, in which new products and services can quickly become out of date and thus rendered useless by existing products or procedures. The area in which new health technologies are most risky usually is in life sciences, such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and medical device and diagnostics.

The World Health Organization recognizes two forms of risk that should be included in health care decision-making: external risk and internal or social impact risk. External risk refers to adverse effects that may arise from the adoption of new technologies, or from the response to new technologies by patients and society. These may range from loss of privacy, to increased dependence on foreign specialists, to negative consequences for the global economy. Social impact is often considered the outcome of individual choices. The choice to purchase alcohol for example, may have social implications, but if no one chooses to drink, then there is no social impact on the manufacturer, the retailer, or the addict.

One of the primary objectives of the US Office of Technology and Engineering (OTE) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is to reduce the uncertainty inherent in technology transfer and adoption. In its endeavor to achieve this goal, OTE is examining health information technology from several perspectives. First, it is examining the value of the technology to both healthcare providers and consumers. Second, it is examining the value of the technology to specific populations, such as physicians, nurses, and pharmacists. Third, it is examining the value of the technology to industry partners, such as suppliers of equipment and supplies.

In a recent white paper, Dr. Walter D. Moseley, Associate Director for Clinical Information at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center in New Orleans says, “The pace of innovation in the healthcare industry, especially in diagnostics, is staggering. The impact of big data is not just about saving money but also improving the quality of care.” According to Dr. Dickson Delmonico, Executive Director of the American Society of Clinical Pathologists, “New technologies like MRIs and metabolomics promise to provide improved patient care while improving the process of disease detection.” Also according to Dickson, “new technologies like immuno-augmentation and exogenetic therapy are making significant contributions to patient care.”

In order to understand the value of health technology assessment in the international context, one has to understand first the value of medical technologies in income countries. According to the World Bank, “In poor countries, access to essential medical technologies, such as immunization and blood banking, is limited, leading to an inadequate public health system and higher rates of infant death or life-shortening illness.” Furthermore, immunizations for most diseases are expensive, especially in third world countries where poor infrastructure limits access to basic health care. In these countries, non-medical costs like administrative costs and payment of co-payments by private payers can eat into most health budgets. As a result, health spending in these countries is rising, with the result that public health is becoming a challenge. It is no wonder then that even developed nations like US has it’s fair share of health technology problems – from lack of effective information on diagnosing and treating common diseases to inappropriate use of diagnostic tests and non-treatment of common ailments, like obesity and tooth decay.

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