August 25, 2020
Mike McSherry, CEO and co-founder of Xealth
Consumer technology giants and startups alike have made multiple proclamations that they can use their advanced technology (with a bit of AI thrown in) to save the day and “fix” health care. From what I’ve seen, health care professionals admire their confidence but have doubts. Although these consumer technology companies are well-intentioned, they are often naive to the intricacies of health care. How can both sides better understand each other?
Prior to starting my company, which provides a platform to help health care organizations scale their digital health programs and engage patients, my background was mainly in consumer technology. I had a unique opportunity to join a health system as an entrepreneur in residence, and I worked with many roles in the hospital to identify areas ripe for innovation. This gave me an inside perspective on the health care industry.
When we blend perspectives, we are better equipped to solve challenges. Here are some opportunities I’m seeing for health care and consumer technology companies to learn from each other.
Traditionally, health care has focused more on specific treatments than the overall journey. While helping patients resolve current issues is important, how they get there and what happens after leaving the office also impacts outcomes. Most consumer-focused companies are interested in the whole journey, from a person’s initial research through after they’ve taken action.
Everyone receives care at some point, and they remember the experience — good or bad. I believe health care companies need to view each patient as a customer and focus on their experience, knowing that they decide where and whether they receive care. Making it easier for people to seek and engage with providers will likely encourage their participation. A recent survey found that half of consumers delay seeking care due to the difficulty involved.
Many people are using their phones to manage most areas of their lives, mainly because of convenience. Health care should be no exception. Some consumers find it more convenient to seek care using an app to describe an issue. Further, a shift toward preventive care has fueled a push to engage populations with their health beyond a 15-minute visit.
Adjusting the user experience includes facilitating greater convenience. If people must take a day off work for noncritical appointments, handle insurance issues, obtain medical results, play phone tag with the schedule or records department or come in person for every periodic check-in, many are likely to delay care, which can lead to more serious conditions and worse outcomes. Or patients — especially time-strapped, commercially insured ones — may abandon one health system for more consumer-friendly experiences, which can be provided by digital-first offerings.
Patients now have expanded options, including telehealth visits, automated patient education and home monitoring devices. The value of these tools is finally being realized as we expand care locations, and it will hopefully continue as they hold fantastic potential for elevating patient care and personalizing treatments.
Health care can look to technology to enhance the overall experience without directly involving clinical care. For example, health care organizations can reduce phone calls by curating a selection of the most inquired about over-the-counter products and sending it to patients digitally following a visit. They also can use digital pathways to send patients educational materials about a recent diagnosis or what to expect for a procedure.
Health care may be the only industry where the person ordering the treatment is different from the one who uses it, who is different still from the entity that pays for much of it. One reason consumerism in health care has taken this long involves questions around reimbursement and workflows. Privacy concerns and relationship nuances further complicate any initiative.
The technology “wow” factor involves improving patient outcomes without increasing the administrative burden or requiring more clicks. With around 15 minutes, or less, allotted to each patient visit, many physicians are reluctant to search more places for information. Anything added needs to fit seamlessly into workflows.
Consumer technology companies should appreciate that the relationship between the patient and doctor is sacred. Most people trust their doctors’ advice and are more likely to follow recommendations that come from them instead of most apps. An article in Nature Research earlier this year suggested that “if apps could be ‘prescribed’ to patients through existing workflows, patients and clinicians may be more likely to use them, and patients could be steered through the maze of apps today towards ones which are most likely to be beneficial.” Technology should work to enhance the doctor-patient bond instead of circumventing it — extending care teams, not replacing them.
However, concerns around patient data and privacy are justified as medical records often command a higher price on the black market than any other form of personal information. Cyberattacks on hospitals are also rising. New technologies must go above security requirements while maintaining the ability to integrate with cutting-edge and archaic systems alike.
Covid-19 has hit the U.S. hard, but many health care companies have been able to implement new processes and approaches to care delivery, sometimes in just a few days. Restrictions on reimbursement for telehealth visits were quickly lifted. In fact, telehealth claim lines increased nearly 4,347% nationally from March 2019 to March 2020.
Hospitals and vendors are working in tandem on the same goal: Keep people home whenever possible. Remote patient monitoring, telehealth and patient engagement automation programs have kept care teams and patients connected without overwhelming hospitals or increasing the risk of virus exposure. As we prepare for a second wave and settle into the next normal, well-executed programs that flow into existing workflows and offer engagement and outcomes insights will continue to prove their value.
If there is any good to come of this pandemic, it is getting people from different backgrounds and with diverse talents to come together to solve some of health care’s toughest challenges. It is time for us to bring the future to now.
Health care is entering the next normal, where both consumers and caregivers have received a taste of the convenience of digital. Instead of looking backward, we should embrace this opportunity for health care and consumer technology to come together and enhance the care journey.