Digital products like Alexa and Siri “learn” a person’s favorite restaurants, music and retail stores and make recommendations on different eateries to visit, items to buy or events to attend. These tools can also perform simple tasks, such as turning on lights, locking doors, adding to a running list of needed groceries or purchasing an item off the Internet.
While intelligent solutions are being used to enhance day-to-day life, these tools can also be employed in healthcare with potentially transformative results.
Intelligent tools can help providers keep tabs on a patient’s health over time, as well as check if the individual is compliant with their specialized care plan. If the patient wears a biometric device to capture vital signs such as blood pressure, heart rate or weight, the device can automatically upload those readings into an intelligent solution that is accessible to the provider. This gives the clinician a clear overall picture of the patient’s health patterns as opposed to the snapshot that’s taken during the patient visit.
It’s interesting to take a look at how we got here. I see two unique factors as having led us to this trend of compliance monitoring.
The first has a legislative basis. The Affordable Care Act has made waves throughout society. For healthcare, in particular, one of the big movements was away from a fee-for-service model and toward a fee-for-value system. It can’t be understated how monumental a change this is for the field. The ACA set the stage for providers to be penalized when patients are readmitted to their facilities; conversely, it also created incentives for those providers who are able to prevent readmission or keep the patient out of the hospital in the first place.
The second trend that led to compliance monitoring is the rise of wearable technology. Ten years ago, it simply wouldn’t have been possible to either passively or actively keep track of a patient’s vital signs without constant check-ins from a staff member.
The rise of the Apple Watch, FitBits, Jawbones and an array of other apps, however, has finally made tracking possible. You’re now seeing some of the world’s leading tech companies and entrepreneurs, frustrated with what they’ve seen as foot-dragging in the healthcare field, offer up technological solutions that rely on big data and their own insights into app design.
The New York Times explored this trend in greater detail in two articles released on the same day in late December: one entitled “How Big Tech Is Going After Your Health Care” and the other “Freed From the iPhone, the Apple Watch Finds a Medical Purpose.” Essentially, companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft are entering the healthcare field in a big way, and you’re going to start seeing many more consumer options available, to say nothing of physicians being given more tech options than ever, even if some of these tools are in their relative infancy.
If we can get patients to start interacting with their own health in the same way they interact with other apps on their phones, that puts us in an exciting place. I would expect the relationship between provider and patient to be thoroughly transformed in the years ahead, with the gamification of health strengthening that bond and leading to extremely positive health outcomes.
Addressing The Social Determinants Of Health
Although hospitals are being held accountable for unnecessary patient readmissions after discharge, sometimes those readmissions are out of the hospitals’ control: lack of access to healthy food, an inability to pick up medications, unreliable transportation to attend follow-up appointments or the absence of a strong support system, to name a few. You’ll note these have one thing in common: They’re not related to the work of a physician. In fact, on the surface, they have nothing to do with healthcare at all.
Let’s back up for a second to look at the interplay between healthcare and social services. The United States is somewhat unique when it comes to the balance between these two critical facets of modern society. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the United States spent a whopping $3.3 trillion in healthcare in 2016, or 17.9% of GDP. According to the Congressional Budget Office’s projections for Fiscal Year 2017, more than $1 trillion in healthcare costs are paid by the government.
Meanwhile, spending on education and social services by the government is just $114 billion, according to the Pew Research Center. For those keeping track, that’s a difference of close to a trillion dollars.
This is far different from many countries throughout the rest of the world, where you see more balance between healthcare and social services. But that balance could be shifting, if not at the government level yet, then definitely in the private sector. We’re beginning to see leading health systems flex their considerable financial muscle to make an impact on the social services that have historically fallen outside their purview.
Hospitals are hiring persons in roles they would never have considered in the past: social workers, outreach representatives, community liaisons and other persons who probably spend the majority of their time far outside the bounds of the hospital walls.
The apps I’ve previously mentioned will act as the primary tools for these individuals to conduct their jobs in the community at large. We’re going to witness a proliferation of monitoring solutions and the workforce responsible for using these solutions to improve community health on an institutional level and patient health on the personal level.
It's An Exciting Time For Healthcare Delivery
Health systems and tech giants alike are looking at technologies used in other industries and seeing how they can apply them in the healthcare space. Although healthcare historically has been behind the times in terms of tech adoption, those days could soon be over. The next three to five years are going to see tremendous change and organizations that embrace it can reimagine how they deliver care.
Originally posted on Forbes Technology Council (view original).