Imagine a new health care model that leverages the digital revolution: Care focuses on patient outcomes. “Connected” patients share data with physicians. Researchers access health information from wearable devices. More people take part in clinical trials.
New insights on the human body drive personalized medicine. DNA sequencing allows for early detection of diseases. Physicians are better equipped to treat an aging population. Fewer medical errors result in fewer lives lost.
Today, many of these changes are already taking place. Healthcare is poised for extraordinary transformation. And digital technology is leading the way.
Drivers to digital change
The healthcare industry is under enormous scrutiny. Rising costs are adding pressure from insurance companies and consumers.
Physician shortages are putting increased demand on caregivers. The worldwide shortage of healthcare professionals today is 7.2 million, a gap that’s projected to grow to 12.9 million by 2035.
An aging population and increases in chronic disease are also pushing demand for healthcare. By 2050, 22 percent of the global population will be 60 or older, compared to 12 percent in 2015.
Dispelling high-tech healthcare myths
Digitized health records are an important first wave in the health care technology boom. The next wave will consider what consumers want in their healthcare delivery.
A 2014 McKinsey & Co. study revealed several myths about what consumers worldwide want and need from healthcare technology.
First, consumers expect to use digital services such as apps, portals, and email to interact with healthcare providers. The study showed 75 percent of respondents want to use digital healthcare services as long as the services meet their needs.
The second myth McKinsey dispelled is that only young people will use these digital services. Their research showed patients 50 and older wanted to use digital healthcare services as much as younger patients. Not surprisingly, older patients preferred older technologies like email and websites.
The third myth dispels the notion that mobile apps are the answer. While there is interest, it is not universal, and it needs to be customized. Younger people are more interested in apps related to their needs, such as lifestyle and prenatal care.
The final myth relates to what consumers want. McKinsey found that most consumers do not seek innovative bells and whistles, but rather simple access to information, integration across channels, and access to a real person if digital offerings do not suffice.
The wired patient
Today’s patients are well-informed and connected to information and data about their health. Some of the connections have been around for years, while others are new.
At the onset of symptoms, many patients do online research to gather information. Once at a doctor’s office, 59 percent of those recently surveyed ask for a specific drug by name.
Once a prescription is issued, 55 percent of the respondents research it online. Forty percent seek a holistic or alternative medication, and 36 percent try to find equivalent medications.
The dramatic shift in technology and healthcare comes in engagement. Eighty-eight percent of those surveyed are willing to share personal information about their health to improve treatment and care options.
Overall, 66 percent are willing to use a mobile health to manage their healthcare. Those rates jump to between 73 percent and 83 percent when a specific medical condition is diagnosed.
With the advent of wearable devices comes another uptick in connected-ness among patients. Seventy-nine percent of respondents are willing to wear a device to manage their health. A whopping 94 percent of pregnant women were willing to use a wearable device.
Fortunately, digital technology is driving change in healthcare in many areas.
Technology is reducing the cost of research and testing. For example, DNA sequencing costs a hundred thousandth of what it did 10 years ago.
CONNECT offers opportunity
Telemedicine has been available for years, allowing physicians to diagnose and recommend treatments remotely, and now new proposed legislation could revolutionize telemedicine. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators filed a bill in early February 2016 that would remove barriers and allow more providers to use telemedicine.
Experts predict the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technology (CONNECT) for Health Act could save up to $1.8 billion over 10 years. CONNECT would allow physicians using alternative payment models to offer telemedicine. Virtual services would become a basic benefit under Medicare Advantage.
It would also allow for remote patient monitoring for those with chronic health conditions such as those needing dialysis. New originating sites like community health centers, rural health centers, and Native American health facilities would also be able to offer telehealth.
For healthcare providers, the potential is enormous.
To respond, providers will consider adopting private cloud computing platforms for storing relevant patient data. Big Data analytics will empower clinicians to make fact-based decisions on diagnosis and care.
Already transformations are happening in large-scale applications of healthcare tech. In Seoul, South Korea, a data warehouse has reduced the over-prescription of antibiotics in preoperative patients. In Kenya, nurses can more easily speed up screening in remote areas for cervical cancer, the leading cause of death among women there.
Patients today are willing and able to become more invested in their health care. Physicians have access to better information on both individual patients and broader populations to drive decision-making. Technology allows for devices that monitor and report critical health information. Healthcare companies are responding in ways both basic and complex, from scheduling appointments to saving lives.
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