Co-author: Megha Kochhar
Access to better health is every human being’s prerogative. With advancements in technology, this ideal state of affairs is now within our reach. In this article, we will take a look at technology-enabled patient care and connected healthcare solutions, covering how connected health tools are making an impact on patient engagement and the overall patient experience.
Technology-enabled healthcare is a collection of multiple other terms, including Telecare, TeleHealth, Telemedicine, mHealth, Digital Health, and eHealth.
Connected health assists different stakeholders such as Patient, HCP, HCO, Provider, and Drug Manufacturers in taking a patient-centric approach, by using technologies such as patient monitoring tools, mobile apps, wearable devices, messaging tools, etc. to improve the patient experience.
It’s pertinent to analyze how connected health is impacting patient experience and the benefits these technologies bring to them. Patients use direct-to-consumer telehealth, on which they speak to their providers using video conference, with the latter analyzing to provide diagnosis and treatment plan. Providers may also connect to consult, share expertise and knowledge during patient care.
The benefits of connected health are not confined to therapy only, but also applicable in improving how patients perceive and interact with their healthcare service providers. Improved patient care can also be the result of using healthcare solutions like wearables, remote patient monitoring devices, and fitness apps. Fitness wearables and apps let patients set their own goals for fitness and track their progress. The patients also receive instant recommendations about dosage, changes in behavior, or notifications when there is a need to call a physician.
The world is changing with the growing penetration of smartphones, tablets, and personal digital assistants. This change, along with the prevalence of and a rise in chronic diseases, has made the generations self-aware.
A few interesting trends have been noted:
- 81% of American adults have a smartphone and 60% of people have downloaded a mHealth app
- mHealth apps have doubled since 2015
- 2/3rd of the largest US hospitals offer mobile health apps
- 74% of patients believe that using mobile apps, wearables and other mHealth tools help them cope with and manage their conditions
A notable example is the fitness tracker – Fitbit2. A quarter of the US population has poor health profiles and has chances of developing one or more chronic diseases. Fitbit in such cases has given some hope in diabetes prevention. A US Integrated Health Network company – Solera Health has partnered with Fitbit for its Diabetes Prevention Program. Per their analysis of 1700 people who enrolled in the program, it was found that those who enrolled for the device deemed to lead a more active lifestyle and have reduced more weight during the program.
Challenges in the Digital Health World
The digital revolution has upped the ante in the healthcare industry. Nevertheless, rankings given by McKinsey to the healthcare industry on their “Digital Quotient” are below most other industries, giving a lot of scope for digitization.
The healthcare industry has been among the last few to ride in the tide of digitalization amongst the other industries. This path that it has followed has had its share of hurdles. This is one industry where the supreme beneficiary (patient) wants an empathetic ear and gentle care. Organizations working to go digital ought not to forget the human side and work towards it.
Digital transformation at its center is a change of mindset. Each stakeholder involved in the process should accept and feel that it is beneficial to adopt it. Even if one of the stakeholders thinks against it, it hinders the progress. Getting ready for the change and adapting to it is the only way forward.
Organizations find it hard to engage patients and healthcare professionals. Providing a seamless and complete user-friendly digital experience to drive patient engagement is a major challenge. Stepping into the shoes of the product-user and providing services that are easy to use and assure high quality will improve the willingness of the users.
It has been observed that organizations planning to go digital sometimes fail to understand the progressive scheme that needs to be managed. Comprehensive knowledge of the processes involved in the patient’s journey is required for the healthcare department to provide the right digital solutions. Right from registering the patient to his discharge and post-discharge follow-up, the entire chain involves many processes. Organizations need to dig into the bigger picture and provide a holistic digital journey to the patient.
Many of the healthcare providers are of the view that some commercially successful apps do not necessarily provide conclusive data that can be inferred and used in decision making for patient diagnosis and treatment. This poses a significant challenge that prevents HCPs from recommending mHealth apps to patients.
Similarly, enhancing the connectivity of digital health tools can be a boon in generating meaningful insights from the data available across various modes. There should be a medium where different digital health apps can talk to each other, exchange data, and incorporate it within their electronic health records.
Technology when used during clinical trials, creates a utopian world for patients. The same does not get transposed into clinical practice. Clinical trials make the patients adhere to regulations religiously. They are trained for the health product and are continuously monitored too. However, the same product may not produce relatively desired results when used during clinical practices by the patient.
Another factor that needs to be kept in mind with digital healthcare solutions is cybersecurity. Various studies have shown that healthcare organizations have the highest costs associated with data breaches. Emphasis should be placed on designing secured digital tools in telehealth, eHealth, telemedicine and mHealth services that are constantly being monitored and upgraded for security measures.
Bringing technology into play increases the data being produced by many folds. Processing this data over various mediums (traditional/digital) is a growing challenge. For example, with the growth of Telemedicine, the number of doctor consultation has grown over multiple platforms (from in-person visits to virtual visits), which makes it difficult to collect, process, and synchronize data from various modes.
Guidelines and laws like HIPAA and GDPR lay down stringent policies that are required to be followed and that define how data can be collected, used, and stored. It is in the best interest of the healthcare organizations to respect and follow all such legislation or risk facing HIPAA fines ranging from $100 to $1.5 million, along with all the bad publicity that invariably follows data breaches.