It seems like we were just singing, “School’s out for summer,” and now Labor Day is behind us. Summer vacation is over. In Boston the Friday afternoon line of cars headed to Cape Cod is gone and we are back to Monday morning rush hour on the highway. While our summer journeys have ended, the road to progress in digital health is winding ahead with no end in sight.
Where is the digital health road headed?
Many groups and companies are working on digital health initiatives. In 2006, the Center for Body Computing (CBC) was established at the University of Southern California as one of the first academic-based digital health innovation centers. The CBC mission is “…to modernize health care through technology to make it more personal, affordable and accessible for all.” In a recent Forbes online article about digital health, CBC Executive Director and founder Dr. Leslie Saxon is quoted describing the future of healthcare:
“Imagine a model of health care that’s always available and driven by data so you’re continuously collecting data off your body, about your environment, your nutrition, and activity…then it delivers back to you personalized health care throughout your whole life. You don’t have to be in a brick-and-mortar building to get it, and you have access to the world’s best experts.”
This seems like a good place for healthcare to end up.
What do healthcare consumers want now?
The Forbes article, “Is Digital Health the Future of Healthcare?”, notes that healthcare is at the intersection of “ever-rising costs and the introduction of disruptive digital innovations.” Healthcare consumers have expectations for digital health innovations, including decreasing healthcare costs, improving outcomes, and enhancing data collection and utilization. Just around the next corner along the digital health highway. consumers would like to see digital devices and cloud computing, resulting in:
- Early disease prediction and detection to provide the opportunity for behavior change to prevent chronic disease
- Cost and quality transparency that allows patients to choose healthcare value
- Accurate and timely disease diagnosis
- Remote monitoring and improvement in home care
- Rapid cycle innovation and performance data
How big is the gap between what consumers want and what providers offer?
In July, Patient Engagement HIT online published the results of a 2018 digital health experience survey from healthcare-centric market research firm, Black Book Market Research. This survey included 650 healthcare consumers with an average age of 37.2 years—44% of whom self-identified as millennials. In the 2018 survey, 92% of respondents said, “improving consumer experience should be a top priority for healthcare organizations”—an increase from 71% in the previous year. Specific healthcare consumer responses included:
- 93% expect to use digital tools that facilitate patient-provider interactions
- 85% expect to have virtual-care access
- 97% want access to online scheduling
- 94% expect online price transparency
The gap is wide between what consumers want and expect and what healthcare organizations currently provide. Only 9% of providers offer the tools patients expect. This is likely to fuel some churn in patient loyalty to healthcare organizations, as the survey showed that 90% of patients feel no obligation to stay with a provider who doesn’t offer “a satisfactory digital experience.” The Black Book survey results suggest that particularly young healthcare consumers will consider digital presence when picking their next provider.
Digital health bright spots
HIT Consultant recently reported on some bright spots in digital health. The University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, has developed a self-powered sensor for post-op patient monitoring. This tube-like device is fitted to the brace a patient wears after joint surgery. It provides wireless transmission of data tracking range of motion and other “indications of improvement.” Twisting and bending of the rod-like structure generates energy, so that the device is small and doesn’t require a battery.
Boston-area Partners HealthCare has a new telehealth initiative, Partners HealthCare On Demand. Through this initiative, Partners offers a new urgent care experience with a secure video visit accessed via the web or a mobile device. Partners Connected Health is leveraging digital health technologies to move care delivery out of the traditional office setting. Virtual visits will support medication adherence, care coordination, and chronic disease management for prevention and wellness.
Humana is launching Humana Studio H, a new center for digital health. Humana Studio H is a 40,000 square foot office space in Boston dedicated to pioneering new products and services to provide “differentiated healthcare experiences” for consumers. Heather Cox will lead Studio H as the Chief Digital Health and Analytics Officer reporting to the Humana President and CEO.
Where the rubber meets the road
Last week Cricket Health announced new series A funding of $24 million to provide integrated nephrology and dialysis care. Cricket Health differentiates itself as the “technology-enabled provider of integrated kidney care” focused on remote and in-person at-home care with state-of-the-art technology and 24/7 peer and clinical support for home dialysis. Treatment offerings will also include redesigned dialysis centers that support patient empowerment.
Cricket Health publications list clinical initiatives that are very similar to current CKD efforts of many renal organizations:
- Identify patients with CKD and risk-stratify them for CKD progression in order to tailor interventions
- Connect CKD patients to nephrology care teams
- Coordinate multidisciplinary care
- Provide patient education and peer mentoring
- Focus on patient empowerment and home therapy
Can Cricket Health leverage digital health technology to deliver a new experience of care? Will we see disruptive innovations that shift the CKD care paradigm forward? This is where the rubber meets the road: knowing what CKD care will help and delivering it in more effective and cost-efficient ways.
Healthcare consumers are ready for innovation that improves the consumer experience and health outcomes. There are some good signs pointing the way to where we want to go and new technologies to help us get there. Innovative devices to collect and transmit data from daily life and improvements in connecting consumers and providers are on the horizon. It may not be enough to incrementally improve current delivery processes, but disruptive innovations not typically found in healthcare today may speed up our digital healthcare trip. Now that Walgreen’s has abandoned the “corner of happy and healthy,” perhaps we can set that as out digital health destination.
Dugan Maddux, MD, FACP, is the Vice President for CKD Initiatives for FMC-NA. Before her foray into the business side of medicine, Dr. Maddux spent 18 years practicing nephrology in Danville, Virginia. During this time, she and her husband, Dr. Frank Maddux, developed a nephrology-focused Electronic Health Record. She and Frank also developed Voice Expeditions, which features the Nephrology Oral History project, a collection of interviews of the early dialysis pioneers.