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The Evolving Role of Digitization in Health Care

The digital world has transformed our personal lives in ways that no longer seem remarkable. We turn on our smartphones and expect instant access to calls, e-mails, texts, the Internet. And when it doesn’t happen, we get frustrated.

Just as technology has reshaped how we communicate, so too is it now poised to change how we interact and get help from businesses, governments and, especially, the health care industry.

Digital tools have taken a more important role in connecting various constituencies in the healthcare  ecosystem. And with the evolution of mobility, digitization of healthcare is now beginning to boost health in ways that are only constrained by our imagination.

That was the focus of a panel discussion I facilitated recently at the Health Evolution Summit, an invitation only healthcare leadership forum. Joining me on the panel was Dr. CT Lin of the University of Colorado and Chris Hunter of Humana.

The panel explored new solutions to patient-facing challenges faced by the three main pillars of the healthcare industry – health insurers, providers and pharmaceuticals . Our goal was to explore how to solve traditional problems with digital solutions. This is an approach Conduent is applying across industries, not just in health care.

On behalf of Conduent, I covered the question of using digital technology to improve the time to market by ensuring effecting clinical trial recruitment and engagement. The core problem: The cost and time to develop a new drug has increased many fold over the last 10+ years – to more than $2.6 billion. The average cost for a clinical trial alone is estimated at $86 million – an average of $36,500 per participant. And clinical trials are only becoming complicated with the push towards personalized or precision medicine.

The solution lies within an integrated technology and service platform that aggregates clinical, claims and demographic data to profile clinical trial candidates. Data mining has given rise enhancing the technique of hot-spotting, i.e., identifying specific regions where there is a high concentration of eligible populations of both patients and investigators. This capability reduces the time and cost of enrolling the correct study population.

One potential facet of this new approach is leveraging new communication channels such as social media to support recruitment and onboarding of patients and investigators, as well as retention of study participants.

The main result will be a reduction in costs and an improved adherence to timeline that will directly influence outcomes through a more rapid go-to-market process for new drugs. In essence, the possibilities are there for making the drug development pipeline easier and more streamlined for participants, and therefore, less expensive to execute.

Efficiency and expense were also front and center in the presentation on provider challenges from Dr. CT Lin, the chief medical information officer at the University of Colorado Health.

Dr. Lin’s team has recognized that change in technology is moving too fast to keep up, so it has focused on developing partnerships in innovation to solve current and future problems. One example: operating room efficiency.

Operating rooms, Dr. Lin said, are the most costly real-estate in the hospital. Yet scheduling is a real challenge. Surgeons are allocated OR block time, that they jealously protect, even if they anticipate they won’t be using that time, for fear of losing time permanently. Many surgeons complain that there is no flexibility to request urgent surgeries, while others complain that there is too much “idle” time in the OR.

The data is stark. UC Health’s ~35+ operating rooms operate at a ~70 percent utilization rate. Just a one percent increase in utilization per operating room would deliver a $100,000 increase in revenue.

UC Health is also applying data science to the problem, looking at and analyzing the last 3 years of OR scheduling data to  create utilization reports. Their solution has created a more flexible system that produces individual surgeon reports to view utilization by hour and day of week. The new system also allows surgeons to proactively release and request OR block time. The data analysis is also driving new governance to reallocate OR blocks long term.

Finally, Chris Hunter, the chief strategy officer at Humana, spoke about the new economy’s potential for producing better and more streamlined models for health insurance payments.

The challenge, he said, is an aging population and rising chronic disease rates that are leading to growing healthcare costs. Our traditional healthcare system does not handle chronic condition sufferers very well – and there are a lot of them. Estimates suggest that more than half of Americans have at least one chronic health issue and a third have multiple chronic conditions – for which per capita health care spending is 3 times greater.

Humana’s approach: To develop an omnichannel experience that meets members where they are and optimizes clinical decision-making via  a comprehensive view of the patient’s healthcare journey. We are leveraging digital solutions to drive connectivity between the physician, caregiver, specialist and patient to enable holistic healthcare delivery. Examples include:

  • A wellness and rewards program that empowers and encourages members to embark on a personalized health journey that integrates online and offline experiences.
  • Personalized reminder messages for gaps in care delivered to members on the MyHumana website.
  • Leveraged remote monitoring capabilities for members with chronic heart failure to predict and avoid exacerbations and acute events.
  • And development of digital API capabilities allow us to connect to providers and send real-time ER notifications to support providers in managing patients.

As was apparent in this panel discussion and across the conference, the energy and urgency to innovate remains at high tide, even with the uncertaintly surrounding health care reform. There’s no turning back now.