Combining patient empowerment and functional technology will lead to a future of holistic healthcare.
The healthcare industry is edging toward change, promising a future of patient empowerment where consumers, with the help of patient engagement technology, can manage their own health and keep chronic illnesses as bay.
By 2040, healthcare professionals can expect to see a patient steeped in knowledge about her own health through open access to her own health data. Through high-touch but remote nudges, this patient will know if she is at risk for developing a chronic illness and will have the support necessary to manage that risk and prevent the disease, according to Neal Batra, a principal in Deloitte’s Life Sciences and Health Care practice.
“You get to a point pretty quickly where you have enough readings, and you have enough understanding about the human body, and you have enough understanding about the data sets around us as individuals that expect health, that you can link these things up through algorithms and artificial intelligence and sensors and smart tech that may be embedded in clothing and smart tooth brushes and smart toilets,” Batra said in an interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com. “You start getting this world where technology allows you to understand.”
Eventually, the healthcare industry will get to the point where technology can overcome any of its usability and cost issues and be a truly feasible aspect of every patient’s life. From there, patients and providers can get on the front end of a disease, intervene in non-invasive ways, and create a less complex or arduous healthcare process.
But getting there will be challenging, Batra said. The industry is currently not configured in such a way that this future vision of healthcare is feasible. Providers, payers, and pharmaceutical companies stand to profit when individuals are sick simply because of the different incentives that exist.
“Right now, the ecosystem has balance, but it has misaligned incentives,” Batra explained. “It’s highly unlikely that change is going to come from within. It’s very hard for a market participant right now to change a value dynamic with another stakeholder and not have real ramifications with them somewhere else in the ecosystem.”
For example, if a pharmaceutical company insisted on creating consumer-facing price transparency for a specific drug, the pharmacy benefits manager might punish them on all of the other drugs they carry from that manufacturer. When one player moves a lever, they’re punished elsewhere, Batra said.
It will require an outside entity to spark change, and the patient is well-positioned for that.
“Individuals are finally at a stage where they’ve got a voice in their health and healthcare,” Batra stated. “Twenty years ago, patients would show up at the doctor, do what the doctor told them, and they’d recover. Today, patients show up and they have a real perspective and a real preference.”
Those preferences impact the course of treatment, cost, and expectations for follow-up care. The industry is seeing a far more sophisticated consumer, and with that a far more powerful consumer. Healthcare consumers are going to put pressure on the market to begin embracing this holistic view of health and wellness that Batra has outlined.
Technology will also play a clear role in promoting holistic health, Batra added. Patients are ready for this, too, but the tools are not.
Patients are poised to adopt technology into their everyday lives. Smartphone adoption is at 77 percent across the country, demonstrating patients’ eagerness to interact with technology. The problem is that patient engagement technology is lagging.
“Folks are using apps and they’re using data on their phones, they’re just not using healthcare apps and healthcare data on their phones,” Batra noted. “This suggests to me the apps are not very good.”
Apps, along with other patient engagement tools, may not be targeting patients in an individualized manner. Patients do not typically find utility in a tool that does not offer targeted information or insights.
Instead, technology companies need to be segmenting their tools, creating some that work for certain populations more so than others.
“If you’re using the same app for the top of the pyramid as you are for those that are in the middle or bottom of the pyramid, and you don’t see the same uptake, that would make sense,” Batra explained. “The way you have designed the consumer experience, the way you may serve up the data, the way the logic of the app, the language of the app, needs to be to resonate most meaningfully is likely going to differ across those communities.”
Should the industry overcome these challenges, a vision of holistic health and wellness is in store for patients. Moving beyond episodic care, health will be defined by “micro-therapies” given throughout the day or the week.
Given patient willingness and effective technology, these nudges will help prevent disease progression before an illness is even symptomatic, avoiding a costly and complex health problem.
“That changes the overall ecosystem because, again, the ecosystem’s been established around providing care when people are not well,” Batra said. “But if we can move that curve, the organizations that make money will be those that actually enable and serve the well more meaningfully than the unwell.”
Some industry payers are already seeing that path forming, Batra said, which is causing a lot of conflicting market pressure. Payers, providers, and pharmaceutical companies are faced with dual demands of surviving in today’s healthcare structure and what Batra says lie ahead.
“The challenge you have when you’re inside the industry right now is that you make money in the current structure,” he reiterated. “The ability to prepare for this next world at the same time is very challenging because you’re essentially taking resources and investing away from your core, and you’re putting it towards this future-state ecosystem that doesn’t yet exist but that’s likely coming.”
Those challenges have the potential to halt the industry’s forward trajectory, but only for so long, Batra said. At the end of the day, the power of the patient consumer will win out, albeit maybe incrementally.
“The whole world is not going to move in one uniform step in this direction,” he concluded. “But the most profitable, valuable customers will – in part because they’re the most empowered, in part because they’re the most health literate, in part because they have choice – will go elsewhere. When they fly, the rest will follow because what’s left will be unsustainable.”
Date: March 29, 2019