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New technologies revolutionizing healthcare economy, study finds

May 01, 2014

More than almost any other industry, the United States healthcare sector may be poised for major disruption as new technologies enter the scene. According to a recent study from PricewaterhouseCoopers, new IT services and tools will soon lead to the arrival of the"New Health Economy," which will be defined by greater consumer options.

The new healthcare
The PWC study included survey results from 1,000 U.S. adults, asking these participants to describe their attitudes toward new ways of pursuing healthcare. Nearly two-thirds of respondents indicated that they would be either very or somewhat likely to pursue treatment from a nontraditional healthcare provider if this would save money. Eighteen percent suggested they were open to alternative healthcare sources regardless of the price of these offerings.

"This is a call to action," said Vaughn Kaufmann, a principal with the Health Research Institute at PWC, Modern Healthcare reported. "The consumer has more choices than they ever had before."

Among the technology-driven alternatives to traditional healthcare highlighted by the study were devices that attach to users' mobile phones to measures their vital signs and MRIs offered by clinics based within retailers or pharmacies.

The range of options and consumers' willingness to try them out mean that there is a tremendous amount of money up for grabs. The study determined that the 13 services considered could provide as much as $64 billion in revenue for providers, and that this figure will increase in the near future.

As of now, though, existing healthcare providers are largely missing out on this opportunity.

"New entrants such as Nike and Jawbone sell wearable devices to monitor basic fitness markers, offering useful, sharable information while gathering valuable consumer health. Yet few in the healthcare industry have used this tsunami of data to deliver more personalized care and experiences," the report concluded.

There are exceptions, though. Modern Healthcare noted that some large organizations, such as the Veterans Health Administration, have fully embraced the potential of healthcare-based mobile apps and other consumer-facing technologies.

Laying the groundwork
There are a number of reasons why the healthcare sector has been particularly slow to adapt to this trend. To some extent, the industry generally resists major changes. For example, healthcare providers only began to adopt electronic health records (EHRs) en masse once the law compelled them to take such action. The inherent complexity of the sector and the related insurance industry can further stymie base-level progress.

Yet the advantages offered by the consumer-facing technologies and IT services highlighted in the PWC study are too extreme for healthcare providers to ignore for long. In addition to the potential benefit to their bottom lines, these tools can lead to improved patient outcomes. By embracing mobile-integrated tools, doctors and nurses can interact with patients without being the same room, easing the scheduling burdens that so many hospitals now face. Additionally, tools that track patients' diets, exercise regimens and adherence to doctors' advice provide critical insight and lead to more effective treatment options.

But to make use of these offerings, healthcare providers will need to focus significant efforts upon their IT services and infrastructure. Without the backend tools to support these consumer-facing solutions, providers cannot hope to utilize the massive amounts of data they will soon receive. Laying a sturdy IT groundwork is essential for firms hoping to take advantage of this trend.

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