While healthcare plans and providers scramble to align themselves with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), many are seeking to leverage their investments into strategic health information technology (HIT) to gain efficiencies in multiple areas. Technology providers consulting these large organizations and assisting them in organizing their data warehouses are looking beyond the zeros and ones and realizing that they can be even more effective than doctors in touching people’s lives and effecting real change. How? By developing new approaches and using a mix of existing and emerging technologies at the population level
Practical Application of Technology in Healthcare
Providing plans and healthcare professionals access to technology portals is a great first step but this must be supported with a holistic view of the approach and tactics on how to use them effectively.
Big Data: Using PHI to Provide Better Care
With the increasing popularity of big data and the major benefits organizations are appreciating in many different segments, healthcare has begun to follow suit. As payers and providers digitize patient records and large pharmaceuticals aggregate years of research and developmental data, new opportunities arise. Cognizant of patient privacy and HIPAA rules, organizations are discovering how to use datasets to cite health issues, encourage a healthy lifestyle, and provide the best possible care. Furthermore, by using statistical clustering, whether by region, ethnicity, or genetic predisposition, they can encourage proactive steps to greatly increase their chance of success within entire groups as opposed to individuals.
It’s difficult and costly to touch the masses effectively using traditional direct mail and e-mails – which often go unopened. Text (SMS) messaging and mobile app push notifications are by far the most effective in this day and age, but there are challenges. One must be mindful of their target population. In the US most postpaid cellular service plans have messaging included, however the same is not the case with prepaid subscribers. Additionally, the underserved, the lower 10% of the population which represent the most at-risk health-wise, lack or have limited access to these technologies. Federal Lifeline Phone programs provide SMS to the members of plans servicing the underserved, but not those in the gap.
Once the population is defined, what exactly is being communicated? The message must be short, digestible and actionable otherwise risk losing their attention. For instance, diabetics could be encouraged to go for a walk in the park, while expectant mothers would be educated on the current development of their baby.
Personality Profiling: The Right Message for the Right Audience
Equally important to the message is how it’s conveyed. How many times have you received advice from care professionals, friends or valued colleague and did not take action? For a recipient to be receptive to advice and take action, the message must be communicated in a tone that will resonate with the specific individual. Even a simple change to a single word can affect how the message is received. If the individual is easily flustered and overwhelmed, the message might be better conveyed in a soft, suggestive manner. Recipients that require less input could be better incented to take action if messages are sent less frequently, in a more informative tone. Heuristic applications and artificial intelligence provide automated methods to apply personality profiling rules to large populations. Applying these results and developing the subgroups of various populations around common personality traits is critical to the success of any messaging campaign.
Devices: Smartphones, Wearable Tech, and Beyond
As smartphones have become increasingly prevalent, the health application marketplace has evolved as an interesting byproduct. Many healthcare mobile applications incent individuals by gamifying their activities in order to achieve their goals, while increasing their health IQ by comparing them to a benchmarks of individuals within their own age group. More significantly, it spawned an entire device segment focused on utilizing the connectivity layers, such as Bluetooth and Wifi, and the cellular data connection to report and monitor the user’s condition via heart monitors and biosensors. ABI Research estimates that wearable healthcare device sales will exceed 100 million by 2016[i]. Sports and fitness-related devices are expected to reach 80 million within the same time period[ii]. Furthermore, hospitals already provide their own closed-network of patient monitoring devices, pumps, and other medical gear.
From consumer goods to medical grade patient telemetry, the collective user and patient data is then aggregated to disparate systems usually for their respective purpose. Integration within these systems to automate the delivery and centralize the data to create a clear cohesive plan for member health is critical. The consumer goods often share open APIs that are easily accessible and shared. There are significant business, technological, and security challenges that can be overcome when integrated into closed networks such as those operated by plans or institutions. Nevertheless, the need for quality patient outcomes outweighs the complexities involved. Institution or healthcare plan-provided device programs offer one such way to ensure device integration and compliance. Having access to this data is key to tailoring the communications, ensuring continued engagement, and driving success.
Patient Engagement: Aftercare, and Retention
With the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, healthcare plans have renewed impetus to better manage their member populations. Having timely access to patient data is a crucial step in order to take action or encourage involvement from the individual to identify and address health issues. The push to digitize records, leverage big data, and utilize messaging technologies affords healthcare organizations opportunities to engage with their patients off-site and during off-hours. This not only provides the patient more support, but it further educates them about their medical and lifestyle choices, resulting in reduced care costs. Furthermore, staying engaged via surveys and friendly advice post-visit provides institutions with unique perspectives into their processes, specifically what works and what doesn’t from a patient’s point-of-view.
This new patient care paradigm helps place the member first in crafting their approach towards treating and managing their conditions while reducing costs incurred by repeatedly treating them without respect to their concerns or wishes. The combination of these technologies allows healthcare organizations to listen to their member’s needs, offer advice and encouragement ultimately driving improved patient outcomes, increased engagement and member retention – success for both the organization and member.
These technologies represent a win-win for a market that has shifted from a fee-for-service compensation model to a risk-sharing relationship between plans and doctors which prioritizes outcomes. As technology continues to evolve and organizations realize the fruits of their collective labor, the leveling of the playing field for both rich and poor will be created through technologically-driven efficiencies. Smarter approaches will result in an enhanced quality of life and overall life expectancy as we all begin to own our individual outcomes.