Healthcare companies are increasingly faced with developments in digital technology that not only impact the scope of patient care, but how they must approach complex digital problems.
From Amazon’s announcement that it’s embracing pharmaceuticals, to patients increasingly utilizing telehealth, the industry is rapidly shifting.
The digital transformation of the healthcare system means that not only do healthcare providers need to have a roadmap for incorporating current and future online systems, but they also need to know in which trends to invest.
Wearable & Digital Health Tools
Wearable health tech isn’t news. From Apple watches to Fitbits, consumers are tracking their health information in real time. In fact, according to research from Business Insider Intelligence, more than 80% of consumers are willing to wear fitness technology.
Yet remote patient monitoring is only just beginning. The Apple watch can now detect irregular heart rhythms. Diabetics can monitor their blood sugar levels through digital glucose monitors. Newly developed wearable electrocardiograms and blood pressure monitors track and determine what habits impact cardio and vascular health.
The FDA recently approved the first digital inhaler for asthma, which will use built-in sensors to detect inhaler use and measure inspiratory flow. The patient data is sent to a companion mobile app using Bluetooth for patients and healthcare professionals to review over time. This information will aide physicians in determining if patients are using their inhalers incorrectly or too often, and improve the quality of care.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. By integrating digital health tracking and remote patient monitoring, companies can provide personalized feedback, solutions, products, and services.
Imagine if your Apple watch not only tracks your health information, but sends it to your doctor, who reviews it. Depending on the results, you could be directed to an online screening tool to further assess your symptoms; a telehealth consultation with a specialist; an online retailer where you could purchase recommended health or medical supplies; or even have a physician sent directly to you for a house call.
The data captured by your wearable device could craft customized grocery lists, helping you achieve health or fitness goals. It could take into account newly diagnosed allergies, food sensitivities, or dietary needs. This has the potential to transform how healthcare and eCommerce overlap.
Wearable devices can also reduce costs to insurers, healthcare providers, and employers. Insurance companies should consider incentivizing consumers to utilize wearable tech, reducing claims costs and encouraging personal health. Employers should start using wearable tech to create a healthier workforce, with increased productivity and decreased turnover. Healthcare providers may also see a reduction in readmissions and relapses, thanks to empowered and informed patients.
In fact, a recent study demonstrated that 75% of consumers acknowledge that wearable tech helps them take control of their own health. The impact is real, and patients are willing to participate. Consequently, in 2020, we’ll see more and more healthcare-oriented businesses employing this technology.
Convenient, Cost-Effective, & Customized Care
The demand for personalized healthcare doesn’t end with wearable tech. Today’s patient is not only tech savvy, but also frugal and seeking convenience. According to a 2017 Inpatient Telemedicine Study, over 70% of consumers would rather use video than visit their primary care provider in person.
Indeed, telehealth is already growing, and is expected to reach nearly $94 billion by 2026. It offers a far more convenient alternative for many patients than typical medical care, particularly when dealing with routine or simple diagnoses, or conducting follow-ups. Rather than requiring a patient to take time off of work, secure transportation for travel, or make an unnecessary trip to the ER simply because their physician’s office is closed, telehealth solutions can streamline the process and remove barriers to medical care.
It also cuts down on costs, which remains the largest factor in encouraging or deterring patients from seeking care. (65% of respondents indicated cost as the top factor when selecting where to seek care, per a 2018 McKinsey study).
Telehealth isn’t the only way that patients are increasingly seeking convenient choices within the healthcare market. The same 2018 McKinsey study indicated that over the past four years, consumers using retail chains and health clinics (i.e. CVS Minute Clinic, Urgent Care, Patient First, etc.) versus traditional healthcare avenues has jumped from 9% to 24%. There are even higher percentages amongst younger generations, many of whom no longer see primary care providers at all.
All of this means that companies willing - and capable - of offering customer-centric delivery systems can not only improve patient care with more personal, accessible solutions, but are uniquely positioned to disrupt the traditional healthcare market and capitalize on commerce trends that benefit both patients and their business.
From incorporating brick-and-mortar clinics to building out remote patient care portals, healthcare companies will lean into patient demands for more convenient, customized, and cost-effective choices.
Dealing with Data
Wearable tech, telehealth, and other digital healthcare products all result in one thing: data.
Three primary data problems - and opportunities - impact the healthcare space: the ability to manage data, and ensure that various information systems effectively communicate with one another; the ability to keep patient data private and secure; and the ability to truly utilize and assess all the data that is collected on a patient.
Increased digitization unfortunately means increased information systems, most of which are not designed to speak to one another. Consequently, data is fractured, and housed in multiple systems. This gives medical professionals an incomplete overview of patient health, and increases the likelihood of a missed or misdiagnosis, incorrect billing, lack of comprehensive prescription tracking, and more.
Now more than ever before, healthcare companies need to invest in a strategy for managing complex data. This means developing systems with flexible architecture and designs, as technology will only evolve even further. It also means creating systems that are adjustable enough to accommodate new mandates and regulations, which are constantly changing.
It’s not enough to develop systems that interact and interoperate, you also need to keep the data those systems store secure.
The healthcare sector has already seen increased cyber attacks, a trend which does not bode well for the upcoming year. In 2018, dozens of data breaches resulted in exposed healthcare records, totaling over half-a-million compromised patients.
Businesses should invest in proper cybersecurity measures to protect themselves and their patients.
With so much data, it’s challenging for healthcare companies to properly utilize it all. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the most likely solution, with new technologies emerging to help process data and turn it into meaningful insights and actionable recommendations.
Mergers, Acquisitions, & Staffing Struggles
In 2018 alone, Definitive Healthcare tracked 803 mergers and acquisitions and 858 affiliation and partnership announcements. This trend will only increase as the constant, rapid evolution of the healthcare sector forces companies to combine resources in order to meet consumer needs and deliver innovative services.
One resource which will remain especially scarce is a qualified workforce. An aging population means that we need more medical professionals than ever. Unfortunately, most medical staff (especially those at hospitals) cannot keep up with demand. According to research by global health care staffing consultancy Mercer, the US will need to hire 2.3 million new health care workers by 2025 in order to adequately take care of its aging population.
While mergers and acquisitions can broaden and strengthen talent pools to some extent, healthcare businesses will need to find ways to utilize technology to cover the gaps, such as the aforementioned telehealth solutions, and automating some of their practices through wearable digital health tools, remote patient monitoring, and AI assessment of patient data.