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The doctor will FaceTime you now: Digitization’s impact on healthcare delivery

January 28, 2016 | By John Kurcis

a doctor video chats with a patient on a laptop

If I can deposit a check by taking its picture, why shouldn’t I be able to inquire about a mole by sending a photo to my dermatologist?

Mobile devices are integrated into so many aspects of our daily lives. Services and information are more accessible now, which has changed people’s expectations—and options. In healthcare, mobile devices have empowered individuals to take control of their health and are making a sizable impact on how physicians deliver.

However, mobility intersects the clinical, marketing and technology space more so than traditional technologies, causing healthcare IT leaders to embark on initiatives that involve several moving parts and invested parties.

Thoughtful customer experience (finally) comes to healthcare—are you ready?

Sitting in waiting rooms. Driving to the drug store. Medical bill surprises. With digital technology, if a user finds something inconvenient or annoying, they’re going to find a workaround. Compared to real-time, effortless online experiences other industries provide (think shopping or travel), healthcare is behind. People are becoming impatient with scheduling, service delays and little transparency into what they’re paying for.

A recent PwC study shows that willingness to use digital technology for healthcare is growing:

  • Twenty-one percent have used a mobile device to order an Rx refill
  • Millennials prefer virtual communication for health interactions

While providers might not rely on paper charts anymore, many are still stuck in the Stone Age when it comes to the customer experience (CX). As cutting-edge providers begin to invest in CX, you’ll find terrific opportunities for patient retention and services growth if you look to the payer segment for guidance. A better CX—through easy-to-use, convenient and high-touch mobile applications—is a key differentiator for healthcare providers.

By focusing on convenience and transparency with services like medical history access, service locators and tracking of deductibles, you can bring real value to your members. One app providing great CX is HealthSparq, which enables users to search for a procedure and see a list of physicians who can perform it, as well as estimated costs.

Similarly, the provider landscape is getting increasingly competitive, which is driving greater investment and placing priority on patient engagement. Providers can differentiate themselves by creating customer-focused mobile apps that cater to what matters most to patients, like ease of communication with their physicians, help obtaining referrals and transparency in their medical bills.

Rise of the mobile MD

Physicians use mobile devices to help them perform their jobs better and more easily. They went into medicine to help people—and simply put, mobile devices give them more flexibility and accessibility to do so. PwC reports that 81 percent of physicians say mobile access to medical information helps coordinate patient care.

Recently, TEKsystems helped a large healthcare provider develop a mobile app that integrated with the organization’s existing mobile application ecosystem, enabling physicians to use any mobile device to perform more efficient and secure photo exams, and coordinate care with other care providers.

Provider organizations will look for more ways to integrate digital innovation into their delivery process. For example, the demand for telehealth/telemedicine (e.g., e-visits or consultations) is growing. IHS, a data and analytics firm, projects the telemedicine market will grow at a rate of more than 50 percent a year, from $240 million in 2013 to $1.9 billion by 2018.

While the demand for more accessible healthcare is high—the majority of physicians are leveraging telehealth. American Family Physician says that 68 percent of family physicians believe telehealth improves access to care—but only 15 percent had used telehealth in the past year, citing training, lack of reimbursement, equipment costs and potential liability as the biggest barriers. With growing competition from retail health clinics, providers will have to address these challenges to attract patients and manage costs; Accenture estimates the use of virtual health technology in primary care could save $10 billion a year and enable more patients to receive treatment.

Wearables: IoT in healthcare

The shift to a value-based payment model is also driving demand for Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. People are willing to invest time and money to avoid potentially costly and unpleasant hospital visits. A Makovsky/Kelton study shows nearly 8 in 10 people would be willing to use a wearable device to manage their health. In response, equipment manufacturers are embedding sensors into pretty much everything to help with maintenance, efficiency and tracking, among other factors.

In healthcare, the IoT trend of wearables can be broken into two categories:

Popular consumer-driven wearables and related applications, like the Fitbit and Apple Health and Google Fit, track health-related measurements, such as exercise, heart rate, sleep and reproductive health. With user-friendly interfaces, consumers get a better understanding of their overall health. Unfortunately, this data is making minimal impact on medical care, since most providers are unable to access or unwilling to accept this information to inform more personalized therapies. Since some payers have programs where they can track members’ health behaviors and offer incentives, there is real opportunity for innovative healthcare providers to tap into this data to improve patient care.

While the release of innovative wearable technologies is imminent, HIT leaders will need to understand and consider new medical compliance and security implications wearables will bring, as well as how to integrate and standardize the data—which is considerably more difficult in healthcare than, say, banking. 

The IoT market in healthcare is projected to be $117 billion by 2020, meaning we are just scratching the surface. With a growing aging population and increase in “lifestyle” diseases that require constant monitoring and supervision, medical-grade and consumer-driven wearables could play a significant role.

With an influx of innovative digital and mobile options available to improve the patient and physician experience, healthcare IT leaders will need to partner with chief medical officers and chief marketing officers to evaluate, prioritize and invest in the technologies and initiatives that will make the biggest impact.

What's ahead? 

Data security and patient privacy are top concerns for most healthcare providers. Learn how successful hospitals build a culture of information security.

John Kurcisis a director of national accounts for TEKsystems Healthcare IT Services. 

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