Technology has the potential to solve some of our most complex health care problems, and hospitals and health systems are leading the charge in putting it to use.

They’re applying artificial intelligence to diagnose disease and using robots to perform surgery. 

They’re exploring gene therapy applications and breakthrough pharmaceutical solutions. 

They are even on track to be able to print 3-D organs on-demand. 

These advancements generated buzz at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival’s Interactive Health and MedTech track earlier this year, where many sessions focused on medical technology’s potential to improve how we receive and deliver care. 

But all that excitement got me thinking about the relatively little fanfare that tried-and-true, low-tech solutions receive in comparison — solutions that hospitals and health systems are employing to promote value in their organizations.

Especially in this difficult financial climate, low-tech solutions also hold a lot of promise. 

They’re scalable and have broad impact. Any size hospital could implement them. 

They’re also inexpensive. They don’t require significant capital investment.

They’re designed to be simple in form.

They’re also tech-light: only tangentially reliant on technologies that are already in place. They won’t require new or costly equipment.

And lastly, they’re human. They need human connection and interaction to work, and to ultimately improve care coordination and integration.

In my work with The Value Initiative, I have watched hospitals and health systems of all stripes consistently create value using practical tools.

For example, hospitals have found value in the simple, low-tech practice of being mindful about where they invest scarce resources. Russell (Kansas) Regional Hospital, a critical access hospital, focuses on strategic investments to improve their energy efficiency, which allowed the hospital to reduce energy use by 43 percent over a three-year period, saving more than $120,000 annually. 

Hospitals also have made dramatic change by giving patients more control over their care. Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas launched a program that allows certain patients, rather than medical professionals, to self-administer long-term antibiotics. This allowed Parkland to maximize limited resources and eliminate inpatient stays for patients that could be treated at home. 

Hospitals and health systems have found significant benefit in partnering with other organizations to address the social determinants of health. When the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System in Chicago collaborated with the Center for Housing and Health to help chronically homeless individuals move into fully independent and permanent living situations, they reduced these patients’ health care costs by an average of 42 percent. These patients were 35 percent less likely to go to the emergency department, where care can be incredibly expensive. More of them started getting routine care at clinics.

Other low-tech solutions can be as straightforward as building time into patient visits. Studies have shown that 80 percent of diagnoses can be made just based on the patient story alone.1 So making time for them to open up to clinicians and share their stories is a highly valuable, low-tech opportunity. 

Group appointments, telephonic care and video-assisted education combined with telephonic group support are just a few additional examples of low-tech solutions that hospitals are able to replicate and scale with minimal investment. 

While high-tech innovations tend to steal the spotlight, it’s important not to overlook the achievable low-tech solutions that are right in front of us.

Do you have a low-tech solution that decreased health care costs, improved quality or enhanced the patient experience? If so, I want to hear about it. Contact me at pbathija@aha.org.

Priya Bathija is vice president of AHA’s The Value Initiative. 

Citations:

West J Med. 1992 Feb; 156(2): 163–165.
Contributions of the history, physical examination, and laboratory investigation in making medical diagnoses.
M. C. Peterson, J. H. Holbrook, D. Von Hales, N. L. Smith, and L. V. Staker

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