What Healthcare Changes Lie Ahead: Wearables and Consumerization

Bill Balderaz

Prior to launching Webbed Marketing (the previous name of Fathom Columbus), founder Bill Balderaz worked with some of the largest publishers in the world to plan, execute and measure Internet marketing programs. He began working on search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising and link-building in 1998, prior to the launch of Google. He has spoken on Internet marketing topics at events sponsored by the Public Relations Society of America, the American Marketing Association and the National Fuel Funds Network. Bill holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations journalism from Bowling Green State University and an MBA from Franklin University.

Here, he discusses health IT trends, the future of wearables as he sees them and the consumerization of healthcare.

What are the biggest changes we will see in 2015 in terms of healthcare technology?

Hospitals and health systems across the country will be adopting or upgrading EHRs, telehealth capabilities, and mobile tools. Look for increased reliance on and more sophisticated use of data analytics, as well as individualized medicine, ‘doctor-less’ patient models, and quantification of population health via social media.  Patients will take more control of their health.

Also look for integration. Patients have so many inputs: lab results, wearable data, fitness plans. Then they have outputs, newsletters, emails, patient portals. The smart money is on the technology to connect and simplify.

What is driving these changes?

At the consumer level, where patients are more informed and involved than ever, what some call the ‘democratized future’ of healthcare is bringing more accountability and transparency to both the methods and costs of care. The parallel needs to cut skyrocketing costs, increase access to care, improve quality of service, and encourage patient engagement are all factors contributing to the growing potential of health IT to transform the delivery and experience of healthcare at fundamental levels.

You work with healthcare systems across the country in a variety of markets. What trends are common to all hospitals and healthcare systems? What differences do you see?

All hospitals and healthcare systems want to acquire patients, improve care and lower costs. The differences lie in how far they are willing to go in their embrace of technology and adoption of new standards. How ingrained is the traditional way of treating patients? Are the doctors on board with new modes of communication and organization? Getting cooperation across service lines and buildings is essential to system-wide change.  We also see highly competitive areas, for example those with a more affluent populations where two or more well respected systems compete side by side, as being first to embrace technology.

What about wearables? Fad? Innovation?

How about both? Bing Trends has already predicted 2015 to be “The Year of the Wearable.” As more people adopt wearables and their interest in tracking their own health data at ever-more-detailed levels grows, hospitals, employers and health insurers are taking notice. Wearables can be integrated into many branches of health and wellness: Eldercare, infant care, prenatal health, medication management, chronic care, dental care, behavioral health, vision, addiction recovery, pediatrics, etc.

Like any technology, there will be a Darwinian evolution. The best and most useful apps will get bigger and better. The fluffy ones will fade away.

What does this mean for patients?

It means that independent of doctors, patients can both have more knowledge about their own bodies and health habits, and more information to share with doctors to aid in potential diagnoses/treatment. Wearables can also be catalysts for positive health habits, especially when combined with the competitive social motivation of a workplace weight loss challenge, for example, where everybody is publicly holding each other accountable. The same type of competitive stimulation can happen when a group of family and/or friends decides to track their steps, calories and sleep habits on Fitbits. Once your results are posted on a leaderboard for all to see, you want be on top … or at least avoid being on the bottom.

What should healthcare systems do to make the most of the technology changes?

Pay attention to how they’re serving patients. They can learn a lot from retail about having a true customer-service mindset. It starts with something as simple as the phone call and wait time to make a doctor’s appointment. To quote Kelly Meigs, director of marketing and public relations for Tanner Health System in Carrollton, Georgia: “For all the innovation we’ve seen in healthcare in the clinical side, we’ve made little progress at the front counter.”

Talk about the “retail-ization” of healthcare, what does that really mean?

Alongside adoption of telehealth and the customer service mindset, ‘retail-ization’ means significant growth in pharmacy co-located retail clinics, as well as independent retail-based solutions in places like malls, grocery stores, and even work settings. It also means more clinics with extended hours, urgent care facilities, and free-standing emergency rooms, plus the introduction of clinics into retail settings that accept patients without appointments and utilize nurse practitioners and physician assistants. At the same time, we’ll see fewer hospital beds in the U.S., largely due to medical care moving out of hospitals.

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