David Williams is the Vice President and General Manager of Conduent Healthcare Provider Solutions.
As part of the shift from reactive to proactive care and the emergence of omnichannel outreach to improve patient engagement, a new delivery paradigm is crystalizing in the healthcare space. That paradigm is the consumerism of healthcare, and it's being driven by new technologies.
In the broadest terms, the "consumerism of healthcare" is a shift to a new model in which consumers themselves take a much more active role in addressing their own healthcare needs. This shift is apparent across the healthcare ecosystem, from the emergence of new, more dynamic health plan models to the recent expansion of Medicaid in states like Virginia.
Let’s look more closely at two examples of technologies that are driving the consumerism of healthcare, and forecast some exciting potential use cases to come.
The ubiquitous nature of mobile phones — 95 percent of Americans today own cell phones — has fueled a proliferation of mobile-enabled health applications in recent years, ranging from patient portals to monitoring devices and EHRs.
But it's more than just mobile apps that are driving the consumerism of healthcare. Wearables are also serving as sophisticated diagnostic tools, supporting not only remote monitoring but also personalized services. Taken together, these two things can make consumers significantly more receptive to behavior modification.
Wearables make it possible for healthcare professionals to intervene to support patients when necessary. They go beyond merely tracking and monitoring important biometrics like blood glucose. For example, in the case of a person with diabetes, simple, noninvasive Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs) can monitor that person's blood sugar and provide feedback or assistance when needed. The CGM, which is implanted in the body, can detect when a person’s blood sugar is low and tell them to drink some juice via push notification, text message or other communication channels. The CGM may also be attached to a glucose pump, whereby diabetes patients who become temporarily debilitated by extremely low blood sugar can receive an automatic injection of glucose.
Ingestibles are exactly what they sound like — and another area where innovative new technologies are aligning with the consumerism of healthcare. In 2014 the FDA approved the PillCam COLON. It's essentially a pill you swallow that records images as it passes through your intestinal tract. Your doctor then uploads these images to a computer, and uses them as the basis for spotting signs of colon cancer or pre-cancer, such as polyps.
The goal of the PillCam COLON is to offer consumers a noninvasive alternative to traditional colonoscopies. Although this approach is not suitable for every patient and circumstance, it’s a good example of technological innovation designed specifically with a consumer-driven healthcare model in mind.
In the shift from static transactions to dynamic digital interactions, health plan providers are eager to find opportunities where technology can positively impact the bottom line. They’re increasingly looking to adjust insurance premiums in ways that reward people for demonstrating — through their behavior — that they’re committed to their own health and wellness.
One way health plans might put this into practice involves borrowing a model that’s already at play in the auto insurance market: companies offer to monitor the driving habits of their insured, and adjust their rates accordingly.
The same thing is starting to happen in the healthcare space — with health plans and employers using lower premiums and other incentives to reward people who take action to comply with their treatment plans, commit to an exercise regimen or quit smoking.
Looking ahead: data challenges
Right now, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are being created every day. For the full potential of new technologies to be realized in the healthcare space, the real questions are: How can healthcare companies make use of all that data? And how can they leverage it to drive actions that improve health outcomes and lower costs?
The answers remain to be seen, but platform-based analytics solutions will play a significant role in making the consumer experience in healthcare more individualized, immediate and intelligent than ever before.