Originally used as a metric to characterize the treatment of hypertension, therapeutic inertia is a concept that’s recently been reappropriated to describe the healthcare industry’s often slower-than-expected uptake of new tools and technologies. Often described as “the measurement of initiating or changing therapy in a timely manner according to evidence-based clinical guidelines,” therapeutic inertia is a useful lens through which to view innovation in healthcare.
Using Therapeutic Inertia As a Barometer for Innovating Care
As a treatment metric, therapeutic inertia is now standardly used to analyze physicians’ behavior during treatment courses for hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia. Typically calculated as the percentage of provider visits that resulted in a change in the treatment course, a higher percentage indicates a slow treatment of a condition by a healthcare provider, while a low percentage showing a quick response in providing a new treatment for a medical condition.
Studies have shown that reducing therapeutic inertia number results in improved patient outcomes and better-managed care, and we can see this measurement of treatment being applied to all chronic conditions as a whole. In fact, studies have found that reducing therapeutic inertia is crucial in order to more effectively control hypertension in over 50% of patients. This also is observed to be a significant issue in treating type 2 diabetes. However, this aversion to changing therapies and trying new medicines or treatments is broader than the metabolic conditions in which it has been directly studied.
The Risk May Be in Sticking with the Status Quo
The healthcare industry is risk-averse for understandable reasons: when patient health is at stake, the risks of new tools, treatments, and operating workflows can seem to outweigh the benefits. However, many new tools are aimed at reducing medical error, which is currently listed as the third leading cause of death in the United States, just behind heart disease and cancer. Death due to a medical error can be caused by simple mistakes, errors in judgment, or system defects, including computer breakdowns. With medical errors causing up to 440,000 deaths per year, technical innovations are needed to help limit human and system errors that could be fatal.
Using Technology for Early Intervention
It’s known that earlier intervention and advancements are better for patients’ overall outcomes. And, while healthcare practitioners naturally turn to their own clinical experience to make decisions on how to treat their patients, turning to artificial intelligence-based technology that synthesizes a broader pool of experience to help them in their work has proven to be quite effective.
A recent study presented at the 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting showed that physicians changed their treatment decisions in 13.6% of cases after being presented treatment recommendations from IBM’s Watson for Oncology tool. Diving deeper, of those that changed their decisions, more than half did so because the innovative technology provided more up-to-date, evidence-based information on newer treatments compared to their own individual knowledge. Having artificial intelligence to help reduce healthcare practitioners’ errors in judgment leads them to perform their duties to the best of their abilities. This is a game-changer in treating all types of ailments effectively and efficiently.
Preparing for Value-Based Care
Investment in innovative technologies gives modern healthcare organizations an edge as they prepare for value-based care models. Although most clinics run on a pay-per-visit model currently, the transition to value-based care will require maximum efficiency and effectiveness.
Tracking and working to reduce therapeutic inertia will also push healthcare providers to adapt faster and make iterative improvements to patients’ treatments plan.
With the stakes so high, providers have a good reason to be risk-averse. However, if this risk aversion is taken too far, it can impede innovation, ultimately resulting in harm to the patients that healthcare providers are trying to protect.