By Ryan VanDePutte, associate director, Bits In Glass.
Patient-centric healthcare is a major buzzword today, and it aligns with an overarching trend that is taking place in our society: mass customization. Over the last two decades, we’ve seen tremendous technological advancements that have drastically changed the way that most all goods and services are delivered. Goods and services are now tailored as much as possible to fit with each of our individual tastes, needs and schedules. This includes everything from entertainment (Spotify, Netflix) to food (UberEats), clothing (Stitch Fix) and now, even healthcare, where the patient is set to become the center of the care ecosystem.
When it comes to this transformation in healthcare, it is about more than just “me, me, me,” thinking. Patient-centricity is really about establishing a partnership between practitioners, patients and their families that aligns with a patient’s wants, preferences and needs, empowering them to be an active participant with control over their own healthcare experience.
This is not only something that the new generation has come to expect but also aligns with the needs of a large elderly population who are increasingly seeking home care over inpatient care. The population of adults aged 65 and older is expected to double from 37 million to 71.5 million between 2006 and 2030 and a 2018 AARP report showed that most of these adults want to grow old in their own homes and in their own communities. This could be for reasons as simple as comfort or as complex as mobility limitations. And while most of these older patients do have a primary care physician, again — it may be physically or economically challenging for them to actually go and see them every time in person. Further, the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that the U.S. could lose as many as 100,000 doctors by 2025. This will further increase the need for efficiency in the medical field, as doctors are already in short supply, particularly in rural areas.
Data, data everywhere
To achieve the outcomes described above, an increased amount of quality data is required to truly serve each individual. While the use of electronic health records has grown in the last several years, making this data easier to access, many of us can still recall seeing doctors using written notes on a piece of paper and placing that paper into a filing cabinet. This analog data storage method has two major problems when it comes to patient-centricity; the first being that the data is not highly usable, it cannot be searched or analyzed in an efficient way, and the second being that much of the time, this data is based on what a patient remembers after sitting in the waiting room at a physician’s office. Both the quality and usability of the data can be lacking.
Further, many patients, especially younger patients, do not have a primary care physician (or a single filing cabinet of records) at all and receive medical care from several different sources such as urgent care clinics and home care providers. This fragments the patient’s health data, which not only impacts the ability for physicians to provide the best recommendations but also brings with it added hard costs.
Redundant tests, for example, may be ordered which increases the cost of care. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the average health organization also spends approximately $120 in labor searching for every misfiled document, and $220 for the re-creation of a document. And according to Premier Healthcare Alliance Research, a lack of interoperability in these systems costs 150,000 lives and $18.6 billion per year.
Patients go digital
The internet has changed the world and has enabled anyone with access to it to research their health questions independently. This has lead to many patients self-diagnosing or even self-treating health concerns. This has also caused its own set of issues — patients with a headache suddenly believing incorrectly that they have a brain tumor, for instance. Search engines tend to prioritize more serious ailments over much more likely issues such as allergies or eye strain.
Despite the incredible amount of information online, physicians are still a key part of the process. Doctors are the expert, and information online could be wrong or misinterpreted. This has also inspired a plethora of online memes.
One residual impact of patients suddenly gaining access to this incredible amount of information is that patients now expect to feel in the know. They want to understand and take an active role in their own health rather than just taking whatever medication they are handed. This has also manifested itself in an entirely new industry focused on consumer devices that monitor sleep, exercise, heart rate, and even blood pressure — right at home.
Wearables have evolved far beyond the pedometer, which was actually invented back in 1780. Clearly, the desire to understand more about our own health goes much further back and much deeper. Today, there are even new medicines that put tracking capabilities right into the pills you swallow. The pill dissolves and can provide data to physicians about uptake, efficacy and patient compliance.
Patients are able to use all of these devices to report their health data more accurately to their physicians in real time. There are many new platforms designed for just this purpose and some are able to incorporate inputs from mobile and IoT devices.
Better data, better health
Beyond our own desire for a better understanding, there are also very practical benefits for accurately tracking and analyzing health data. Health and life insurance companies are beginning to recognize that wearable devices may be able to make users healthier, and are increasingly underwriting the cost of a range of wearables.
The rise of IoT in healthcare has made it easier for patients to obtain information such as temperature or blood pressure, as well as calorie intake, sleep quantity and quality, heart rate and even the amount of exercise they do on a daily basis.
Researchers at Columbia University has also developed a cost-effective smartphone accessory that can quickly and easily test for three different infectious disease markers: HIV antibody, a treponemal-specific antibody for syphilis, and the non-treponemal antibody for active syphilis infection.
Within 15 minutes, a smartphone can produce a reliable diagnosis based on an analysis of a small sample of blood, and innovation in this area is constant. Researchers at Northwestern have developed a stretchable sensor that will help improve recovery rates in stroke patients, with sensors that stick directly to the skin.
A patient-centric ecosystem
According to Goldman Sachs and BI Intelligence Estimates, the cost of IoT sensors has been steadily decreasing since 2004, and the vast majority of Americans (77 percent) now own a smartphone. Lower component costs and the ubiquity of such powerful electronics is empowering patients to gather their own health metrics and report these to their physicians, providing them with the ability to meaningfully track progress and alert the necessary parties when things don’t look quite right.
The role of doctors is as vital as ever, but with new technologies becoming increasingly powerful and affordable, patients can be empowered to feel that they are at the helm of their care. Medical records living in the back offices of multiple health care facilities is to become a thing of the past as new solutions enable those records to be stored digitally and accessible anywhere, be it at home or at the clinic, by both the patient and all of their myriad healthcare providers.