By Chris Hakim, general manager and senior vice president, eHealth.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers face growing pressure from legislators, employers and consumers to control prescription drug costs, which have increased by as much as 15 percent between 2008 and 2016. In late February, a congressional committee grilled executives from seven pharmaceutical companies over relentless price hikes and common industry practices that block competition. All along the health care chain, demands for greater transparency and calls to put consumers first are getting louder.
Clearly, there is no magic bullet to tame rising pharmaceutical costs. There is, however, evidence that absent political action, technology can be an effective weapon against price inflation. We witness this dynamic first hand at eHealth, most prominently among seniors, who are putting the power of information and effective technology-based tools to work for themselves as they shop for Medicare coverage.
What’s more, we’ve seen the use of online transparency tools grow. During the recent the 2019 Medicare open enrollment period, eHealth’s provider lookup tool was used by 47 percent of people shopping for 2019 coverage compared to just 5 percent the year before. In addition, 30 percent of people buying Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plans used the tool compared to 18 percent during the previous annual enrollment period. And nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of customers who bought Medicare Part D plans through eHealth used the online prescription drug coverage comparison tool; those who enrolled in the recommended plan found a median potential annual savings of $531 on prescription drugs.
Data show that seniors are likely to use technology at increasingly higher rates. Four-in-10 now own smartphones, more than double the number in 2013, and 66 percent of individuals 65 and over use the internet, up from 43 percent in 2010. Among so-called “senior surfers,” 53 percent go online for information about health care or medical issues.
From relieving people of repetitive tasks, to building everything around us that shapes our lifestyle, and on to transformation of volumes of data into new insights and perspectives, software has become the new feedstock for the human evolution. All facets of life are touched by software, and healthcare is no exception.
The Complex Web of Health Industry
The health and social care industry is a highly fragmented and complex industry with medical practitioners, nurses, health professionals, hospitals, clinics, government, and non-government agencies all providing health services.
The spectrum of healthcare providers range from individual clinicians such as general practitioners to large monolithic entities, such as the National Health Service in the UK, which is the third largest employer in the world today.
Health and social care providers offer a complex and diverse range of facilities and services. By the nature of these services, the healthcare industry is driven by large and varied amounts of data which in turn require varied and complex IT systems to manage this data. Generally, these systems come under the umbrella term of eHealth. While there is no consensus on the exact definition of eHealth, two example definitions are:
“…the cost-effective and secure use of information and communication technologies in support of the health and health-related fields including healthcare, health surveillance and health education, knowledge and research.” –The World Health Organization (WHO)
“…the use of modern information and communication technologies to meet needs of citizens, patients, healthcare professionals, healthcare providers, as well as policy makers.” –The European Commission
Whatever way people choose to define eHealth, it generally encompasses: