Healthcare costs continue to rise globally, outpacing inflation in most major economies. In Asia, the difference is glaring: medical costs was anticipated to increase by 11.5% against an inflation rate of 2.1% in 2016. In Singapore, this was projected to be a 9.9% increase against an inflation rate of 0.2% in the same year.
The rise of healthcare costs is due to a multitude of factors, from aging populations, poor lifestyle habits, higher patient expectations, and more. Regardless of the cause, healthcare cost inflation multiplied manifold that of overall inflation is simply unsustainable in the long run.
In the face of that, it is of utmost importance that the healthcare ecosystem become much more serious about countering the trend with a long-term healthcare strategy. Stakeholders including providers, professionals, patients, regulators, and employers need to think about how they can rein in healthcare costs while improving outcomes.
Patient engagement as a key focus
Let’s start with the patient in this discussion.
Empowering healthcare providers and professionals
We want patients to take care of their own health. With healthier systems, one should expect fewer diseases, a delay in the onset of medical conditions, or at the very least, reduced reliance on professional medical attention for chronic conditions. Surely, this has to be the fastest route to control spiraling healthcare costs and enhance healthcare outcomes.
Now, we would imagine that patients—people like you and I—would be most driven to take charge of our own health. The problem is that a great deal of other things demand our attention in this fast-paced world. Unless one is burdened with daily pain, it is difficult to get patients to watch their lifestyle closely to improve their health. Even with a myriad of mHealth tools for patient engagement in the marketplace, studies have shown that patients are not utilizing them enough. Research conducted by Accenture shows that hospitals are reaching only 2% of their patient populations through mobile applications.
One key issue is the number of, and usability of, apps patients must deal with. Most health conditions require patients to track or manage more than one thing. If patients are instructed to use one app to manage their diabetes and another for depression—each with different features and different ways of entering data—you can understand why some patients give up along the way. Another problem is that many of the apps do not contain features most favored by users, such as access to medical records, appointment scheduling, and prescription refills.
In this regard (as articulated by Dan Delaney, MD, Chief Medical Officer at SAP), it is critical for organizations to understand that in patient engagement, what they need is not one point solution for diabetes by a small vendor, and another point solution from another vendor, and so on. Provider organizations need the ability to engage patients on an enterprise level; they need a set of capabilities that is highly secure and scaleable with an intuitive user interface.
With the ability to engage patients at the enterprise (or health system) level, healthcare professionals would be better empowered to have meaningful conversations with patients on a sustained basis. For example, physicians will have real-time insights to allow them to intervene when needed, track prescription fulfillment, and monitor ongoing non-adherence issues. And because it is an enterprise-level app, it doesn’t matter which hospital or retail clinic the patient goes to, as long as it’s within the same health system.
Such care collaboration help healthcare providers keep costs down by preventing catastrophic health events. Those who are able to successfully engage patients do more than contribute to managing rising healthcare costs. These healthcare providers set themselves apart by showcasing higher clinical success rates, differentiating themselves from competition. They also improve hospital revenue cycles.
Generating new value for life sciences companies
Life sciences companies can also generate new value, not to mention transform chronic disease management, while playing a key role in harnessing patient engagement tools to stem escalating healthcare costs.
Roche Diagnostics provides a fine example in this area with its newest live health engagement pilot in Germany, which aims to change the future of type II diabetes. Called Accu-ChekView, Roche’s new package combines a blood glucose monitor, a wearable fitness tracker, and an app developed by SAP that are integrated together. This kit is issued to new diabetes patients.
Patients and physicians agree on goals, such as what the blood glucose level should be, medications, diet, and more. With Accu-ChekView, the patient’s vital signs and blood sugar level can be watched in relation to his physical activity level, in real-time. The doctor can monitor the patient remotely, and the patient can communicate with the doctor’s office.
The close connection fosters a stronger relationship. Patients feel supported and empowered. Little errors and slip-ups in lifestyle can be caught quickly because the app will red-flag the issue, and the doctor and patient can work on solutions together.
The regulators’ role in advancing patient engagement
Patient engagement is an important subject for all stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem, because keeping the patient informed—whether it is on viable treatment approaches, benefit-risk assessments, potential costs, or ways they can get back on track after little mistakes—are such critical aspects of healthcare, it is also appropriate for regulatory authorities to consider how they can facilitate and advance patient engagement goals.
While a connected, whole-of-nation, sustainable healthcare system may not manifest immediately, authorities can play vital roles to support or establish such an ecosystem that can increase the rate of innovation in healthcare services and improve patient outcomes while reducing costs.
Unlocking personalized medicine’s true potential
Patient engagement will also play an important role in unlocking personalized medicine’s full potential.
In discussing the future of healthcare, we often focus on data: How can we work with massive data from complex data sets, sort through colossal amounts of it from multiple sources, and analyze it in real time? We also spend a lot of time talking about how we want to make sure it can scale. (See my other blog, Personalized Medicine: Unleash the Power of Health Data.)
Certainly, all that is important. But it’s not merely about the analytics. Creating the tools to connect with the patient directly is imperative to maximizing the potential of personalized medicine. Clearly, no healthcare analytics solution will be complete without the capability to truly engage with the patient and improve their health outcomes. Furthermore, as the health sensor market matures, more and more clinically relevant data is going to be generated by the patient and the devices they use at home. So establishing a strong connection to the patient and nurturing their engagement with the organization will be critical to patient data collection.
Delivering high-value care
Patient engagement is a key healthcare priority toward delivering high-value care.
Leading and innovative healthcare organizations are already encouraging better health and wellness management with patient-centered, self-managed care supported by mobile apps, remote monitoring, and dashboard views of health and activity data.