2020 was a year none of us could have predicted or prepared for. For the healthcare industry, 2020 may well be remembered as an “annus horribilis” as Queen Elizabeth II once coined. Sadly, we are closing out the year with record number of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19, even as a vaccine begins to make its way across the country.
While this year tested every aspect of normalcy, in the midst of such massive challenges, we also discovered glimmers of hope within the healthcare industry. From new tech advancements, to rapid medication production, to recognition of medical staff, there were some positive moments amidst the challenges of 2020:
Healthcare takes main stage – As COVID-19 began to take its toll across the globe, physicians, nurses, clinicians, and medical staff everywhere stepped up to the challenge and delivered care for the thousands who became sick with the virus. In cities across the country, nightly cheers showed our appreciation for healthcare workers, who are fighting to keep us alive and fighting against the virus. While the pandemic continues, we have discovered a renewed gratitude for healthcare workers and the lengths they go to protect our health.
Digital Health Goes Mainstream – COVID-19 disrupted traditional healthcare services as we once knew it. Providers suspended non-emergent visits and care, leading people to explore and discover new ways of living and working amid a lockdown, and digital health tools saw an increase in usage. With daily life upended, we took to using our Fitbits, Apple Watches, and digital drug companions to manage health on our own. During 2020, digital health tools saw an increase in use of nearly 50%. And with increased connectivity, more advancement in health monitoring and outputs, and the improved use alongside smartphones, digital health looks to support patient engagement into 2021.
Over the past year, we’ve seen big tech giants and retailers entering into the healthcare market and Walmart is just the latest example. As one of America’s largest retailers, Walmart recently acquired a technology platform called CareZone, which offers a worry-free way for consumers to organize health information and access vital health services, in an effort to enhance its digital health and wellness capabilities.
I recently spoke with Omri Shor, co-founder and CEO at Medisafe, a leading digital therapeutics company providing medication management solutions for patients across the healthcare continuum, to learn about the impact of Walmart’s recent acquisition on the digital health and pharmaceutical space, as well as the broader role of digital health in the future of care and what this could mean for healthcare consumers moving forward.
Q: How will Walmart’s recent acquisition of CareZone impact the healthcare industry?
Consumers are engaging and adapting with digital health more than ever and incorporating it into their daily routines. With Walmart, you’re taking a retail giant with pharmacy capabilities and licenses across all 50 states and adding a digital health component. It’s a great model for Walmart and this acquisition solidly moves them into the digital health space.
Walmart will now gain vast amounts of healthcare consumer data and, coupled with its vast network of brick and mortar stores, the addition of CareZone may even put it one step ahead of Amazon. What will be key to watch for is Walmart’s ability to support those patients managing chronic conditions who require dedicated programs to affect lasting behavior change in addition to end-to-end support which requires coordination across the healthcare ecosystem.
Q: What would it take for Walmart to successfully move into this industry with this acquisition of CareZone?
Adding CareZone’s technology platform to Walmart’s existing digital capabilities and physical reach creates a unique opportunity to redefine what the future of digital health and wellness can look like across the board. Now more than ever, patients require digital hand-holding to navigate multiple treatments. That being said, digital health tools have the ability to empower patients and improve their outcomes through seamlessly integrated technology.
For Walmart to have a successful entrance into the digital health space, a deep understanding of the needs of patients is critical. While the company has the retail and pharmacy aspect handled, true success will require connection across many other hubs within the broader healthcare ecosystem.
Whether that be connecting payers with providers or providing consumers with a mobile app for medication adherence, having the capacity to connect across the continuum is something Walmart should be thinking about building into their market strategy. Once the ecosystem piece comes full circle, Walmart will have the power to integrate their business model into the everyday lives of American consumers, which will be imperative to support patients along their journey.
The COVID-19 crisis is accelerating the future of healthcare. In fact, I’d like to argue that the future is here today as demonstrated in digital health. Within weeks, this pandemic spread across our healthcare system, shutting down the traditional care delivery model and forcing us to adopt technology.
Supporting patients in a social distancing time did not provide many options but to turn to the advancements that already exist. We simply had to turn to the existing technology available and flip the switch to deploy our future healthcare model.
This is most evident with the rise of telehealth usage in lieu of point-of-care facilities such as doctor’s offices. Since the coronavirus outbreak telehealth has experienced a surge of 1,700%, particularly supporting mental health patients.
But what do patients need during this crisis and will they adopt technology as future healthcare models? We recently surveyed Medisafe users to better understand their concerns and needs during this outbreak. What we discovered is that patients are extremely appreciative of the ability to touch base, acknowledge this crisis and ask “how can we help?”
Noting that this is a primary concern, and with more than 7,000 patients responding, a majority of whom are very concerned about the coronavirus and its effects, we need to think about how to best reach a community in need an empathetic solution is needed more than ever.
Additionally, with the recent surge in telehealth to compensate for social distancing it is evident that are gaps in the daily connections and check-ins required from patients managing medications.
A majority of patients are in some form of social distancing and 55% of patients indicated that they are concerned that the coronavirus will interfere with their medication regimens. Enter the role of the digital companions. From a telemedicine solution, digital companions can offer additional insights as well as aiding in isolation by deploying guidance in a rapid response while offering a human touch in times of isolation.
Digital health technologies also offer support beyond a virtual “check-in” that can digitally handhold patients with their everyday needs, especially those managing chronic conditions or multiple medications. Digital companions keep patients continuously connected with condition management and care givers. For example, patients on multiple medications or managing complex doses or even taking injections require additional support at while at home to remain adherent to their treatment.
Digital health platforms are adept to support patients during this time, bridging isolation and bringing healthcare support into their home. In fact, more than 42% of our patients indicated that they have changed their traditional treatment routines by adopting telehealth. In addition to telehealth, digital companions offer features to keep patients connected.
Following the survey, we opened unlimited Medfriend capabilities which digitally connects family or friends with the patient’s medication schedules. Immediately, we saw Medfriend engagement activity triple. In fact, one user replied, “My mental health isn’t great right now, so knowing that you’ll tell my Medfriend if I haven’t taken [my medication] is great.”
Connection to care givers is also critical to digitize the care support teams. Fewer field support home visits are also creating concerns with patients, “I appreciate the help you’re giving. My doctor put me in home isolation 2.5 weeks ago for my sake, the only people I see are my caregivers but now they are not allowed to visit.”
Digital health that connects the daily interactions of patients with care support teams fill a critical gap. Clinicians can monitor their patient panels by following tracked activities and in fact scale their monitoring capabilities of one to many. Digital companions keep patients on therapy but also notify care support teams when patients behavior is at-risk. The combination of high-tech and high-touch is quite powerful to support patients managing chronic conditions.
Ultimately, humanizing your digital capabilities goes a long way. Digital health at its core operates on sophisticated data-driven AI to deliver personalized interventions at time of need. It’s within each of these interactions that the digital support becomes more and more relevant for patients establishing a digital relationship, trust and loyalty. However, during a crisis we also need to make sure to “check-in.”
We are all human on each end of this digital connection and when dealing with medical conditions alone during a crisis a human touch goes a long way, best stated by a patient: “I’m good. Just knowing that you are out there is a good feeling.”
Kristin Simonini, vice president of product, Applause
Healthcare has long been looked at as a laggard when it comes to adopting digital services. Part of that is due to the stringent regulations of the industry and the sensitivity surrounding personally identifiable information. Part of the blame, however, falls on healthcare providers themselves. As more and more providers in the industry start to embrace digital innovation, a number of key trends emerged over the past decade including:
The embrace of mobile technology for scheduling appointments and other routine tasks
Telehealth patients accessing doctors for consults, education, and certain outpatient treatments across a variety of fields
The IoT explosion (Fitbits and other wearables) providing customers health information to drive the healthcare they receive
Healthcare’s focus on patient experience means bringing a critical eye to current digital experiences. Ease-of-use and inclusivity must be considered in order to ensure high-quality digital experiences across all touchpoints, particularly on smartwatches, tablets, and smart speakers
In terms of predictions for 2020, we expect use of voice technology will continue to grow and will empower the healthcare industry in new ways, including supporting patients. The benefits that voice brings to healthcare can be seen in medical record transcriptions, chatbots sharing the work, sharing knowledge, voice-user interface, and connecting clinics to customers.
In addition, AI will continue to impact the healthcare industry in numerous ways. As healthcare embraces AI, it will also need to address issues of bias. All types of AI – from virtual assistants learning how different users ask for the same thing, to healthcare apps identifying potential health issues from uploaded photos – have been hampered by the same challenge: sourcing enough data to teach the machine how to interpret and respond, and then testing the output at scale to ensure the results are accurate and human-like when necessary. To mitigate bias concerns, healthcare will need to make AI more representative of patients
Today, healthcare payers and providers are spending nearly $30 billion every year on analytics and using over 415 different vendors for their analytics needs. This is a tremendous waste of resources and time. We’ll see an accelerating trend toward converged analytics solutions that cross clinical, financial and operational boundaries to enterprise analytics solutions.
Enterprise analytics will dramatically increase the speed and efficacy of population health programs because when you have both fresh claims-based data and clinical analytics you can diagnosis, intervene and engage in care management programs far faster and with much greater confidence in the data and results. This is where healthcare will be moving in 2020.
In the year ahead the health care sector is going to continue to see investment in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning. That dimension of innovation in hi-tech will continue to evolve and emerge and markets will slowly open and mature.
I believe health information exchange or HIE – once known to most of us as regional health information organizations or RHIOs – will be back in vogue. What began more than a decade ago went underground for a while but ACOs and other initiatives have resurrected HIE infrastructure and made it abundantly clear that HIE is vital to care coordination, outcomes and value-based reimbursement (VBR). All-provider clinical messaging, outcomes measure, quality assurance, transitions in care, cost and utilization management, and referral management absolutely must be supported by HIE infrastructure.
Biometrics will continue their spread and companies such as Apple and Google (for better or for worse) are making it clear they see the future and are investing accordingly.
Lastly, population health management platforms that enable functions like risk stratification will see tremendous growth.
Tim O’Malley, president and chief growth officer, EarlySense
Technology advancements over the past decade have enabled us to accurately track millions of physiological patient parameters in real time. As we head into 2020, the industry will continue to leverage the incredible power of AI-driven “smart data” and analytics to not only predict potential adverse patient events, but also prevent them.
Patient care will continue to become even more personalized and new standards for patient safety will emerge. Predictive analytics will be used across the continuum of care- from hospitals to skilled nursing facilities and homes- to support health staff and patients, improving clinical outcomes while also creating a potential for significant financial savings.