Guest post by Scott Zimmerman, president, TeleVox.
If you caught Maria Bartiromo’s interview with ex-Apple CEO John Sculley in late December, you would have heard him say this to the Fox Business Network’s Global Markets Editor:
“Telehealth is going to be a booming industry.”
Why? Sculley pointed to consumers’ taking on more responsibility for their own healthcare, the result of a new awakening to its high costs. He sees this as a derivative effect of Obamacare, as patients confront greater out-of-pocket payments in the face of higher deductibles.
Sculley went on to compare his expectations for the success that he expects telehealth to experience to the success that ATMs and online banking have seen in the last 20 years: “People said, ‘I wonder if it will be successful. We all know it was. The same thing is going to happen in telehealth.”
The renowned tech titan is very much onto something here. Consumers – especially those with chronic conditions who grapple with the challenges of adhering to prescribed treatment plans – will want more efficient and lower-cost ways to more regularly engage with their healthcare providers as part of a continuous-care model. But there’s so much more that is influencing the move by medical professionals to complement in-office visits with remote patient engagement strategies and communications solutions.
One important reason is that healthcare providers and institutions have financial incentives for more aggressively managing patient cases. In the age of accountable care, hospitals want physicians who have ties to their healthcare systems to boost patient communications for care coordination, to help them steer clear of penalties for avoidable readmissions. The focus on rewarding quality of care delivered, rather than quantity of services provided, also increases the importance of doctors’ keeping closer tabs on how their patients are doing in between office visits.
It’s always better that physicians know as soon as possible if their patients are having problems complying with care instructions or experiencing other complications, but especially so under these new scenarios. By the time the next office visit rolls around, things may have worsened to a considerable extent, potentially leading to more tests, additional medications, or even the need for hospitalization – all of which can take its toll on meeting accountable care standards.
Progress Is Underway
Of course, it’s simply not possible for healthcare professionals to regularly call each patient who is suffering from a serious condition to see how he or she is doing between appointments.
But it is very possible to leverage remote patient engagement technologies to continue to support these patients after they leave the office. For starters, medical offices can schedule automated emails, voicemails or text messages whose content encourages patients with chronic conditions to stay on the path to better health.
These messages can offer information that serves to motivate important behavior changes, whether that’s taking their medication at the right time every day or lowering their intake of fatty foods; encourage them to call if they’re experiencing problems or side effects, such as might occur after their medications were changed; or even just remind them about their next appointment and why it’s so important that they don’t miss it. What’s key to these messages’ effectiveness in changing behaviors and supporting closer doctor-patient relationships is that they are presented to the patient in a personalized – and decidedly not mechanized – way.
Even though the technology that enables these capabilities must operate on a many-to-one scale, it is possible to achieve levels of personalization that should drive greater patient responsiveness. Patient data from practice management or electronic health systems, for instance, can be integrated into patient engagement systems so that messages contain references to a patient’s specific condition or drug therapy, for example. Solutions also should look to leveraging technology that enables voice calls to sound like they’re coming from a human, not a robot.
Things are only going to get better, this year and in the coming years, as advances in wearable medical devices and software make it increasingly possible for doctors to take advantage of real-time or near real-time patient data – wherever that patient may be. Applying analytics technology to incoming sensor data or to information that patients may share with doctors through mobile apps (such as their latest blood glucose readings) may lead to discovering patterns pointing to potential health issues. That paves the way for physicians hopefully to get ahead of oncoming medical problems – starting, perhaps, with their systems automatically generating a communication to a patient to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.
As you can see, it’s a very exciting time for healthcare technology. Consumers and healthcare providers alike want the benefits that can and will come to them from the use of remote patient communications solutions.
I personally am very glad to be a part of the movement to help the medical community improve the lives of their patients, as well as enable providers to better support new reimbursement and other financial metrics. I look forward to seeing how the vendor community at large will come together to help healthcare practices and practitioners activate millions of patients to lead healthier lives in 2015.
Scott Zimmerman is a regularly published authority on utilizing technology to engage and activate patients. He also spearheads TeleVox’s Healthy World initiative, a program that leverages ethnographic research to uncover, understand and interpret both patient and provider points of view with the end goal of creating a healthy world–one person at a time. Healthy World promotes the idea that touching the hearts and minds of patients by engaging with them between healthcare.