We will never return to the days of house calls and family doctors who knew you from birth. However, thanks to advances in mobile and digital technology we are well on our way to a new golden age in medicine, one that will offer near instant access to electronically delivered healthcare from humans, anywhere, any time. The groundwork has already been set – there have been more than one billion tablets produced by the tech industry (one for every seven humans), so we certainly have enough screens to get a caregiver’s face in front of every patient.
So, what’s the next step? An understanding and commitment to using this technology to give everyone access to care, whether they are an aging boomer, someone living in a rural area without enough specialists, or a very sick kid who can’t travel because of their treatment regime.
This isn’t science fiction – robotic technology and tablets are already being combined in schools, in homes and in hospitals to better patient experiences. For example, a public elementary school in Round Rock, Texas recently accommodated a student receiving chemo in Philadelphia by using a telepresence robot to put her back “in” the classroom. The technology allowed her to look around the room, interact with fellow students and ask questions as if she were there in person – all for under $1,000.
The ROI of this type of set-up for schools is impossible to calculate nationwide, but the benefits are massive. Not only does the child benefit, so do their classmates who learn about inclusion, the school which evolves its technology, and the community because it gains one more educated human being. More than 40,000 children undergo treatment for cancer each year in the US – imagine giving each of them this opportunity.
Guest post by Torben Nielsen, senior vice president product and strategy, HealthSparq.
The past few years have seen record investments in digital health. More than $12 billion have been poured into digital health companies in 2014 and 2015 alone, according to Rock Health, and there’s no indication of any slowing in 2016. Here are my predictions for what’s in store for health care in the New Year:
#1: Fragmented and disparate data sets turning into relevant and comprehensive information sets
Healthcare data sources have been siloed and fragmented for years. Data in electronic health records (EHRs) have worked within the hospital setting (to some degree), but not across systems, or for the consumer. Patient portals have attempted to bring data together, but with limited adoption due to sporadic data, old interfaces and no clear use model. With new data standards, APIs, and open source developments, data will become more fluid and accessible. We will finally start to see data portability and data integration in ways not witnessed before. This will be to the benefit of the consumer, who will be able to share and embed data from different sources into their preferred view. This will ultimately create a more relevant and engaged experience for the healthcare consumer.
#2 Continuous and team-based care on the rise
Along with a deeper and more portable experience of one’s own healthcare information (both from the healthcare system and via patient-driven data) comes a more continuous and streamlined patient-doctor experience. Interaction between the patient and the system will happen via Wi-Fi enabled technology and smart devices allowing for a continuous stream of data and information. This will benefit the doctor, who will be able to interact and react much faster. It will also do away with the “information black-outs” that often occurs between the time a patient visits their physician, all the way until their next scheduled visit. The patient will also be able to better track their condition. Furthermore, much of this information can be shared with the patient’s broader care team such as significant others, children, specialists, etc. This will ultimately benefit the care provider, the patient and the overall system.
#3 Millennials will be the catalysts for the healthcare consumer revolution
One of the most over-used buzzwords in the healthcare industry today is “consumer/patient engagement.” Everyone seems to have a solution for driving up engagement for the masses. However, it’s a fallacy to believe that anyone or everyone will engage in a particular system, process or technology. As is the case with most products, an early-adopter segment needs to be identified to successfully scale and ramp up sales. For healthcare, millennials will be a great catalyst for change and the movement towards consumerism. This generation has grown up with Uber, Amazon, Instagram and Facetime. They will demand a much more efficient and technology driven healthcare experience. They will push for a seamless and personalized experience, and their voice will become stronger and stronger over the years as they start consuming healthcare to a greater extent.
Guest post by Anand Natampalli, MBA, vice president, global business development, HGS, and Daniel A. Schulte, MBA, CHFP, senior vice president, provider healthcare, for HGS.
If there is one constant in healthcare and health IT it’s change. Technological advances, growing workforce needs, regulatory reforms, and the continued shift to value-based care will all continue to have a profound impact on the industry in the coming year. Here is what we think will be the major changes affecting payers and providers:
Data Grows More Critical in a Value-Based World
Payers used to leverage analytics to look for ways to reduce operational costs. In 2016 and beyond, the focus will be on creating highly targeted products, channels and service offerings that keep patients healthier. For example, payers will use highly personalized behavioral data to make wellness recommendations for members. This targeted approach of wellness is possible with analytics resulting in higher adoption rates compared to a traditional outreach.
Greater Focus on the Customer Experience
Members purchasing health insurance on the exchanges will be faced with a choice each year, and those choices will be right in front of them for them to compare. A poor customer experience this year will increase the likelihood of finding a new payer next year. Based on 2014-2015 data, 38 percent of members changed their health plans in state exchanges with in one year. With price points remaining comparable customers will continue to look to service and experience as key differentiators when choosing a health plan.
Engagement and Activation
Technologies that enhance and improve patient engagement and activation will be critical to healthcare moving forward. Through population health management we are learning more about how to create wellness strategies and to stratify patient populations based on their conditions and adjust for nuances in age, race, diagnostic groups, and the like.
This article is part of the “Think Further” series sponsored by Fred Alger Management. For more “Think Further” content, please visit www.thinkfurtheralger.com.
There is almost nothing I’m certain of except that life is an uncertain thing and that it seems to change a lot. Even in the most predictable of settings, even the minutest changes in detail can have a lasting and overwhelming effect on nearly everything in its atmosphere. In healthcare, a space seemingly immune to the status quo, things seem to get a whole lot more complicated. The same can be said of life and death, health and well-being. On their own, they are not so difficult to understand and often, in most cases, predictable and redundant; until the final days, of course, then things begin to get a little more complicated. When we’re fine, we’re fine. Life is good and most of our concerns seem trivial.
Then health gets involved and the minutest change in detail can send our lives in a spiral so much so that we barely recognize our place in it let alone who we are and where we belong. When such an occurrence arises, we begin to rely on beeps and buttons, software and technology in ways never before imagined for the intersection of our lives.
Clearly, the health IT landscape will be completely different five years from now. From where we stand today to where we’re headed, we’ll likely look back on this moment and wonder how we survived such archaic times. Just a couple years removed from the age of the electronic health records, technology that already seems dated and antiquated, is no longer monolithic and domineering to the space as it likely seemed in 2010.
Our future selves might stand on the threshold of 2020 and say that we were being single minded. The technology — EHRs were supposed to save healthcare and are now nothing but foundational. The technology was supposed to simply aggregate information collection, provide for the ability to quickly share information system wide and around the world; and give us the capability accessing all of a patient’s information at the tips of the proverbial finger.
When the promise of those solutions faded (yes, their stars have faded) and as our attention forced us into new technologies (primarily because of consumers’ desire) we are now seeing developments in technology creating touch points that impact patients “where they live” and has become the new force behind healthcare technology.
Consumers will drive healthcare’s future. Probably not a secret at this point, but a point that is hard for the old guard. They’ve had enough of being left out of the ownership process regarding their own health. They’re tired of being locked out of their own records, and kept access to their own information. Such data would not exist without those helping produce it. New consumer technologies have and will further level the field. Consumer tech will continue to spur innovation, at light speeds. Data will flow between healthcare parties and its consumers; HIPAA protections will be waived and open access for the social good will become the norm. Standard and traditional approaches when dealing with patients, in a generation or so, will be completely different and far less segmented, as they are now.
Although life in rural communities offers many advantages, the rural healthcare system in America faces challenges not seen in urban areas, for obvious reason: population loss, poverty and access to healthcare have been problematic in recent years.
Taking a look at Pennsylvania, which is the sixth most populous and ninth most densely populated state in the US, based on information from the United States Census Bureau from 2010 and 2013, as a state it hosts a significant amount of rural areas. According to the Pennsylvania Rural Health Association, 48 of its 67 counties classified as rural, and all but two counties have rural areas. More than one quarter of Pennsylvanians live in rural counties.
Thus, it’s as good a place as any to examine some of the unique issues facing rural communities, who even though they may be within driving distance to some of the best medical care in the world, they are unable to access it each day without some sort of life altering obstacle.
In general, residents of rural communities in the U.S. are less healthy than those in urban environments. According to Unite for Sight, “rural residents smoke more, exercise less, have less nutritional diets and are more likely to be obese than suburban residents.” Already against the odds, residents in rural Pennsylvania face several specific problems that jeopardize the state of healthcare in the area.
Between 2000 and 2010, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that rural Pennsylvania counties grew by 2.2 percent while urban counties grew by 3.9 percent. However, the small increase in rural counties was only because of the eastern counties. Western rural counties decreased by 0.9 percent, and by another 0.5 percent from 2010 to 2012.
In some places, the situation is bleak. The newspaper highlights the population loss in Taylor Township, a part of Lawrence County that experienced a 13.6 percent population loss from 2000 to 2010. “Of its 1,052 residents, more than twice as many are over age 65 as under 18. That ratio is practically unheard of among municipalities and doesn’t bode well for the township’s future.”
In an ideal world, a patient should be able to visit the doctor whenever he has health concerns. However, for many patients, particularly the millions living with lifelong chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), meeting this need is a challenge because of several reasons. Key among these are: lack of time and limited access to a nearby health facility. These obstacles, in turn, sometimes create even bigger problems, such as patients’ failure to practice daily routines of disease prevention and management, resulting in worsening of their conditions and triggering the need for emergent care.
Fortunately, a solution is underway. Experts are taking advantage of today’s modern technology—telehealth — and are using it to bring healthcare education and services closer to consumers. Most simply put, telehealthcare provides contact between clinicians and patients who are at some distance from each other, and uses telecommunication-ready tools to “see” each other and undergo clinical examinations even at a distance.
Through telehealth, patients can easily get in touch with their doctors without having to worry about geographical distances. From a residential setting, not only can a simple and known tool like a telephone be used as an audio communications device to connect patients with their clinicians, but an array of monitoring devices, such as blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximetry measurement tools, weight scales, and others, can also be used to transmit current vital sign readings for clinicians’ review. In the same manner, physicians can use today’s information technology to easily access their patients’ electronic health records and monitor their patients’ development outside the walls of their clinics or hospitals.
Truly, telehealthcare and remote monitoring have enabled many healthcare practitioners to help manage the chronic health conditions of their patients, and subsequently, help improve their patients’ quality of life.
Here are some selected FAQs about telehealth service delivery that focus most particularly on the home healthcare arena, which is most probably the health service sector most unaffected by new technology introduction and use until recent decades. Strictly hands-on, or ‘high touch” care service delivery was the order of the day throughout the 20th century. Yet home healthcare is likely to become a very critical component for achieving the much broader and longer term view of patient care delivery after patients’ discharge from hospital. It is then and at home that patients will receive subsequent services through their continuum of care that will keep them well over a long term.
Can I get reimbursed for providing telehealth?
The answer is yes, usually, for providing home telehealth services but not in the usual billing scenarios most home healthcare organizations are used to for submitting bills to Medicare or other insurers. As of now, mid-2015, changes in Medicare and Medicaid fee for services are just coming on-board affecting home telehealth service delivery. There is still a long way to go until Medicare will not very much require face-to-face home healthcare visits during a patient’s admission period—this is the same insurer who absolutely required specific documentation about every portion of nurses’ contact with patients and let the home health agencies (HHAs) know that to CMS, if something was not documented [e.g., a telephone call between nurse and patient about wellness directives] , it didn’t happen [and the bill would therefore not be paid]. Today there are many insurers beyond Medicare that are paying for home telehealthcare (e.g., Aetna, United Healthcare), but it’s very early on—we need to return to this question later this year.
How will I develop a home telehealth service capability? How will I develop a strategic and operating plan for this new delivery channel? Where will I get the technology? What type of training will be required of my people and what will the cost of training be and how many employee hours need to be dedicated to this training?
It’s best to keep in mind that, although the technology is new, you’re not beginning with a blank slate for running a healthcare service delivery business. While all of these questions about telehealth tool acquisition and use are important, the very first question to ask, not mentioned in this list of questions is, hands down, who are my HHA’s most costly patients? An agency-wide chart review would reveal that these are the patients that require the most visits, and additional training in self-management skills and routines.
Once identified, and these are usually patients living with specific chronic diseases and conditions, such as congestive heart failure (CHF) and non-healing wounds, then the subsequent questions can be addressed. In earlier days of home telehealth service delivery (ca. mid-1990s), a full-scale workstation was typically available that could be assigned to any home healthcare patient and came fitted with telecommunications-ready vital sign measuring peripheral devices such as a blood pressure cuff and pulse oximeter, as well as glucometer for measuring diabetic patients’ blood sugar levels even though some patients didn’t have diabetes. These were kind of a one-size-fits-all system, though these proved to be too costly for HHAs and too complicated for patients to use regularly and correctly. More common now is to order and assign only needed and stand-alone telecommunications-ready peripherals devices for patients to perform daily measurements and transmit them to their clinicians.
Interoperability standardization is a critical element of e-health innovation. Varied and complimentary standards will be needed in the decades ahead to accelerate development of life-saving and life-enhancing capabilities and to ensure that the greatest potential benefits of e-health are realized around the world.
The IEEE Standards Association is at the tip of this spear and is working to make progress in the field of medical device interoperability. Illustrating the benefit of interoperability of standards in the monitoring and assessment of patients, and creating awareness of current medical device standards, this following infographic gives a short description of six medical device standards that strive to improve medical treatment for both patients and providers.
Utilizing smart phones, people can track and send their data to doctors from a variety of personal health devices such as, sleep monitors, insulin pumps, sleep apnea equipment, health and fitness monitors, health weighing scales and glucose meters. The standards specify the use of specific term codes, formats and behaviors in telehealth environments that promote interoperability of multi-vendor products to create an over-all more seamless tracking of health.
If you’ve ever watched a person go through the first stages of coping with type 2 diabetes – and with the disease at epidemic levels, many of us have a close friend or relative with the disease – you’ve seen them struggle to put into practice all the information, advice and strategies they are given.
This is true of most people with newly diagnosed chronic diseases, not just diabetes. To avoid complications, and the huge costs in both suffering and money that come with them, they have to learn a new way of living. Medication and other treatments can’t take the place of lifestyle changes. And despite their best efforts, many people are defeated by the challenge.
We now spend 70 percent of our healthcare dollars on chronic disease care, much of it to treat complications that lifestyle changes could avert. All that money isn’t really helping. People continue to suffer and to lose years of productive life. If we could find a way to help these people improve their health, we could dramatically reduce both suffering and costs.
Chronic disease patients need tech support
One thing we’ve learned here at Dell is that in helping hospitals implement an electronic health record (EMR), at-the-elbow tech support makes a big difference. And learning to use a new EMR has many of the same challenges as learning to live with diabetes.
To go live with a new EMR, doctors and nurses have to learn a new way of working. It’s more than just a software change. It’s changing everyday habits that have kept the operation running for years. That’s why it is crucial to have someone to guide the caregivers through the first days and weeks. The right support lowers users’ frustration, increases their confidence and makes the difference between a quick, smooth transition and a drawn-out, rocky transition.
That kind of tech support could also help patients with diabetes and other chronic diseases learn a new set of habits. For diabetics, even a simple thing like breakfast can be a challenge. If you can’t pick up your usual donut, what’s the alternative? Friendships can be harder. “No, sorry, I can’t go to happy hour for chips and a margarita,” isn’t what your friends want to hear. Add in blood sugar checks, medication and a new exercise routine, and it can be overwhelming. None of it is fun, and all of it distances you from friends and daily comforts.
Diabetes education classes can help, just as training classes for doctors and nurses can help them learn a new EMR. But patients also need the same at-the-elbow tech support for their new life that caregivers need for their new EMR. They need a knowledgeable, friendly healthcare tech support agent who can suggest a happy hour walk with your friends or what to drink instead of a sugar-loaded margarita. Or tell you about a healthy breakfast sandwich that is right on your way to work. Or how to tell your mom that you won’t be eating her famous pancakes at Sunday brunch. Someone to boost your confidence and make you feel like you can succeed at this new life.
New technology makes at-the-elbow support possible for patients
Sadly, most of patients are pretty much on their own. The result is confusion, loss of confidence and a sense that it is all just too hard. And that means expensive complications and more suffering.
The good news is that new telehealth technology can bring at-the-elbow support to patients at home, at a price that is affordable. While support can’t be literally at a patient’s elbow, secure video conferencing can give patients access to doctors, nurses and health coaches who can answer questions, give advice on medications, food, exercise and how to lose the unhealthy foods without losing the relationships that are tied to them. And most patients already have the technology needed – a smartphone, tablet or computer.
Guest post by Grant Kohler, vice president, Innovation and co-founder, REACH Health.
I began my healthcare career in the hospital setting. While working at Georgia Regents University (formally the Medical College of Georgia), my colleagues and I developed one of the nation’s first telestroke systems. It was rudimentary at first, literally pieced together on an IV pole from existing equipment: web-enabled video cameras, flatbed scanners for CT scans and spare CPUs, with a landline telephone to provide audio. Since then, I’ve worked with many facilities across the country to set up telemedicine platforms. Over that time, I’ve witnessed a variety of approaches to telemedicine.
One major transformation I’ve witnessed more recently: Many hospital systems are now choosing software-based platforms over hardware-based technologies. As I’ll explain shortly, this shift in thinking has important implications worth considering.
Core Technology: Software vs. Hardware
Telemedicine platforms are evolving rapidly with no signs of slowing. It is prudent to ensure that your hospital is in a position to take advantage of the rapid pace of improvements without being locked into a solution that hinders or prevents future technological enhancements or program expansion.
To appreciate the difference between focusing on software vs. hardware, consider the evolution of mobile phones. In 2007, the first smartphone was introduced. At the time, flip phones were considered leading edge. Less than five years later, flip phones were deemed antiquated by most. Why? The cell phone is a hardware-centric device and the smartphone is a software-centric device.
In the telemedicine industry, first-generation solutions such as tele-presence carts and robots began as single-function, hardware-centric devices. Even if they work satisfactorily for their narrow purpose, they lack the flexibility needed to support cost-effective upgrades and expansion for multiple service lines. Also, because the hardware is proprietary, it often isn’t subject to commoditization and is priced at a premium. As telemedicine technologies have evolved, software-centric platforms have become available and offer increased flexibility, including new capabilities and multiple endpoint options.
Support for Creating a Telemedicine Network – Thinking about the Subscribers
The literal goal of telemedicine is to create networks where provider hospitals offer specialty care or expertise to subscribing hospitals. Successful execution produces improved outcomes and patient satisfaction for a larger number of patients and creates economic benefits for both the provider and subscriber hospitals.
Your telemedicine platform can impact your ability to recruit hospitals into your network. In competitive markets where other provider hospitals are vying for the same potential subscribers, a well-designed telemedicine platform provides a recruiting advantage. If a large hospital balks at expensive hardware investments that easily become dated, a smaller hospital will have similar concerns but a tinier budget. Hospitals of all sizes seek to leverage maximum utility out of all investments with a minimal disruption to existing processes and workflows. With hardware-centric platforms, the inherent focus is often on the technology itself rather than the patient. This is unpalatable for most hospitals considering telemedicine, as their primary objective is better patient care.