Digital health, healthcare insurance exchanges and personalization made their mark in 2016. Learn about these trends and what we can expect for the years ahead.
What was 2016’s most notable breakthrough in digital health?
We’re seeing the first proof points of cognitive computing for making clinical decisions. One major breakthrough has been cognitive computing to improve clinical decision-making in cancer. A good example is the work that IBM Watson has done to provide clinical knowledge support at the point of care.
Universities are now using cognitive computing systems to analyze and evaluate patient data, the latest medical research and clinical trial information so doctors can make an informed judgment on treatment.
Are there any health innovations you are excited about for the coming year?
Artificial intelligence and cognitive computing that automates routine tasks will be very important in both clinical and non-clinical components of healthcare. We are so dependent on labor in healthcare; the opportunity for technology that makes healthcare systems more productive and effective is critical.
Technology is enabling a greater number of patients to do more self-care. Information and personalized recommendations are delivered to a patient—based on their individual history and unique circumstances—versus the patient looking for information themselves.
What are healthcare organizations struggling with most in terms of adopting digital health approaches?
They are struggling with two issues related to the fact that digital health does not fit in the way healthcare is delivered. First, we have a business model challenge, in that the healthcare model is based on insurance, and payment is driven by consumption of services. Technology-enabled services that reduce consumption need to find alternative commercial models. This is different than industries such as consumer goods, where the consumer has the opportunity to use something valuable, and then pay for it.
The second problem is that new digital technologies need to fit into the existing technology ecosystem. If it is not a plug and play technology, then adoption is more complicated.
Digital health consumers continue to have high expectations. What is the most important step payers or providers can take to meet the needs of this new customer base?
The mindset has to move away from defining patients in terms of their disease or care setting, to one based on the individual’s preferences and circumstances. People want to experience care on their own terms and providers and payers must be cognizant of those preferences.
What role will personalization have in healthcare in the coming year?
The industry must be clearer on what personalization is. We still confuse personalization with in-person care. Personalization is about people wanting a care experience delivered on their own terms, not necessarily in person. For example, a patient may not want to go to a building for care; they may want the care to come to them.
Organizations may try to deliver “personalized” service by building an outpatient facility that is fully staffed with greeters at the front door. However, the reality is that you haven’t connected with the person who wanted a mobile service that came to their house, or a virtual interaction through their mobile phone.
What have healthcare organizations done in the past year to improve their operating models, and what should they focus on in the 2017?
What they have done for a number of years is focus on taking out waste from the healthcare system and reducing services that don’t need to be provided. Certain services need to be provided, so the key is figuring out: How do we do it more productively? Our research on primary care found that doctors spend 18 percent of their time on diabetes care that could be provided by other people, the patients themselves or technology, freeing up the doctor to see another patient.
The introduction of automation and artificial intelligence that take over routine cognitive tasks will allow us to extend the reach of our professional workforce without having to train and deploy more professionals.
How can the healthcare workforce in the digital age be more liquid, to go where help is needed most?
Today, we are able to match supply and demand in new, innovative ways. For instance, clinicians and specialists can now oversee ICU patients from a centralized location, without actually being at the bedside. Another example is around making dermatology consults available remotely. The patient sends information and a picture, and the clinician reviews it and makes a recommendation at a time that is convenient for them. Doctors can see more people in the same amount of time, and patients can get clinical advice without having to leave their home and without waiting weeks for an appointment.
How have healthcare exchanges evolved this year, and how can payers better prepare to meet demands of the future?
The exchange market is maturing. On the public side, there is recognition that the existing environment must be modified to minimize the growing pains. The recent elections make legislative change very likely.
The broader issue is that consumers expect the health insurance buying experience to be more like other shopping experiences. Insurers recognize that the shopping experience matters when creating long-term brand loyalty with consumers; therefore, those experiences on health insurance exchanges must evolve. Payers have committed to changing that experience, independent of the specifics of public exchanges.
Can you sum up in one sentence what the future of care delivery will look like?
It will be marked by care that is more virtual, more location-independent, more self-service oriented and more personalized.