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Why Data — and What We Do with It — are the Keys to Changing the US Healthcare Game

David Foster is the Principal for Health Exchange Solutions of Conduent HR Services.

Estimated to be worth trillions of dollars, the healthcare sector represents a massive opportunity for large technology companies. As technology creeps into patient treatment as well as the measurement and collection of patient data, it's no surprise that today’s most prominent tech giants have plans to participate in the space.

With this infusion already taking shape, what are the implications for patient care and the future of medicine? The answers to these burning questions won't be known for some time, but improved patient care is a likely outcome. However, the real game-changer in this new healthcare economy will be access to data — and what healthcare providers do with it.

The terms health and healthcare are often blurred, so it's critical to outline the difference before exploring what the future holds. Essentially, “healthcare” is the provision of medical services for maintenance and improvement. On the other hand, “health” is a condition free of physical or mental illness or injury. According to GP Online, healthcare only contributes to approximately 10% of health. The other 90% is attributable to social determinants, education, sanitation, housing and above all, poverty.

Unfortunately, as a nation, our health is on the decline despite advances in science and technology. The opioid crisis is out of control, and many of us have chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes. In fact, according to the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, nearly half (45 percent) of all Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease. From a societal perspective, mental health is also deteriorating, illustrated by a 25% increase in suicide rates since 1999.

To better understand the state of our health and healthcare, we need to be aware of three key factors:

  1. Access,
  2. Personalization, and
  3. Demographic-driven utilization.

Demystifying the Three Factors

Regarding access, there is a fundamental disconnect in our country that needs to be addressed. With so much focus on healthy eating, healthy activity for all ages, and the barrage of information that seems (to many of us) to be knocking down our doors, we should find ourselves in a better predicament. However, a high incongruence exists between advances in science, technology and medicine — and the actual situation in which most Americans live.

We believe the reason for the contradiction is that the advances are not adequately introduced to those who need them most. For these advances to proliferate, those of us with the ability and resources to access healthcare information must step up and help facilitate the connection through proper education. More knowledge = greater utilization, one would assume. But despite Big Tech's advances, we aren't even close to using the knowledge and information at our fingertips to its greatest potential.

For any technology company to make an impact, data rights are required. A company may have access to data but doesn't own the data and therefore cannot intrinsically use the data in support of patient care and outcomes. Think of data access like the sidewalk in your neighborhood and data rights as your private driveway.

The next factor is personalized health, which boils down to how we use the data available to us on an individual basis. If there are things we can do on the health side regarding prevention —like staying active — we can prevent a dire diagnosis down the road. Remember, most future conditions can be prevented, slowed down or managed.

Lastly, demographics play a huge role in how successful technology will be in implementing the positive changes to health and healthcare. We need to understand that health and healthcare are not the same for everybody. Baby Boomers and other seniors, for instance, are likely to use more healthcare resources and do so in a whole different manner than Gen X or millennials. And the older generations have usually had a relationship with their doctors.

Millennials, on the other hand, are more likely to have a relationship with their smartphones. Given the rate at which technology is taking over our lives, we can only assume the next generation will be even more dependent on technology for healthcare access and information.

In Data We Trust?

One thing we can count on is that data is at the heart of any well-laid healthcare program — at least one that genuinely seeks to impact health. But who has that data and how can it be used in the face of these changing doctor/patient interactions?

Our smartphone is going to become a cornerstone of health data, especially as we store more of it with each new iteration of device. Apple's implementation of EMR (Electronic Medical Records), for example, is already poised to work with 12 leading hospitals across the country to aggregate health data from the phone with hospital patient data.

From a societal perspective, do people really want to be told that they are (or are going to be) unhealthy? Will this “helpful news” come from an app or from a personal conversation with a doctor? For those of us who aren't millennials, will an app get us to change the way we manage our own health?

These are crucial questions. While large technology companies like Apple may have access to an abundance of consumer data, they don't have access to administrative data, demographic data, or a 365-degree view of the patient.

At Conduent, we’re in a unique position to step up and make a difference at the intersection of health, health data, technology and societal changes. Our RightOpt® platform leverages market leading data integration via a data hub and warehouse. These integrated healthcare data warehousing and analytics services are utilized for reporting related to cost, quality, performance, benchmarking and health optimization. Our platform creates a central source for all relevant data, ultimately benefiting our plan members.

RightOpt’s advanced analytics drive personalized and proactive messaging beyond annual enrollment … and across digital channels for preventive care, risk identification, wellness support and patient advocacy.

Imagine a world where doctor visits are conducted through VR, professional diagnoses are delivered by Google Assistant or Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa orders healthier food for you. We’re not too far away. 

This post is just scratching the surface. We’re devoting significant resources to the technology behind health and healthcare, and we’re enthusiastic about what the future holds for our customers and the patients they serve.