How Consumerism and Technology Will Converge To Shape The Future Of Health Care
Chris Stenglein, Chairman & CEO
Chris Stenglein currently serves as Aquina Health’s Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Directors. He has been involved with the company since September 2012 and is responsible for the overall vision and strategic direction of the company. During his tenure, Stenglein has led Aquina Health to sustained growth and profitability, establishing Aquina Health as an industry leader in healthcare FinTech.
In my first article, I provided a backdrop of the ecosystem of healthcare to new entrants and explored the impact that consumerism and alternative reimbursement models will have on the US healthcare system.
As you may recall, I also introduced you to C-3PO, the famed Star Wars etiquette and protocol droid and my concept of the CP3 Ecosystem. Consumers first, then Patients (unique and infinite in their needs), Providers (talent constrained and not infinite), Payers (currently 1000’s who accept deposits from consumers who will be future patients, make payments on their behalf and manage contracts with providers to serve them) and lastly one of the fastest growing segments of healthcare: Healthcare IT which acts as the operational support system for the entire body.
The article touched upon the subject of the rise of consumerism. Driven by a rapid increase in patient responsibility, the patient portion of healthcare has risen disproportionately to the growth rate in healthcare and is estimated to reach nearly $650 Billion in annual spend over the next decade.
As I mentioned before, the healthcare industry is a fluid, complex body of numerous disparate systems and operators, and technologies, all converging with one common goal – provide quality care to the patient.
I suggest consumerism is good for the overall healthcare industry. It’s a trend we cannot ignore. So, in this article, I’ll introduce you to the overall concept of consumerism and why it’s good for both patient and physician, I’ll also discuss the rise of telehealth and the technology being used to help patients and what it means for the physician.
Part II. Consumerism, telehealth and how technology can help both the medical practice and the patient.
If consumerism is good for the healthcare industry – then what, exactly, is it? And, more importantly, how does it benefit both the patient and the physician?
Patience, young Padawan, all will be revealed. Well, maybe not. But I’ll explain the overall concept and provide a few pros and cons later in the article.
Let’s start with a definition. According to The IHC, healthcare consumerism is defined as, “transforming a health benefit plan into one that puts economic purchasing power—and decision-making—in the hands of participants. It’s about supplying the information and decision support tools they need, along with financial incentives, rewards, and other benefits that encourage personal involvement in altering health and healthcare purchasing behaviors.”
And, it seems, consumerism is an inescapable growing trend. With healthcare costs continually on the rise, according to a CNBC article, annual premiums reached $18,000 in 2016 for an average family and with the average deductible around $8,000, it’s no wonder families are beginning to a take on a larger share of out-of-pocket costs.
Families are also more willing to research alternatives to healthcare. Instead of relying on their current primary care doctor, most families are now willing to shop around. They are also more willing to use outside vendors to assist with unexpected hospital bills. Curea Finance, a 3rd party patient finance company, helps patients receive the treatment they need, without having to pay upfront fees.
Telehealth, mobile apps, and other online health services are also on the rise. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal discussed the rapid rise of consumers and doctors turning to telehealth as an easier, faster and more convenient way to meet those needs.
Doctors can now link up with patients by phone, email, and webcam. They’re also consulting with each other electronically—sometimes to make split-second decisions on heart attacks and strokes. Patients, meanwhile, are using new devices to relay their blood pressure, heart rate, and other vital signs to their doctors so they can manage chronic conditions at home. Telemedicine also allows for better care in places where medical expertise is hard to come by.
Hospitals and medical practices are smart to hear the changing winds and adapt to the consumer’s needs. Failure to acknowledge this ever-changing shift is a peril many are not willing to test. A loss of patients surely means a loss in revenue. To combat this shift, many hospitals and medical practices are testing new concepts of price transparency, micro-hospitals, and telehealth options.
The Rise of Telehealth. Patients appear to be embracing not only retail health but more rapidly the concept of Telehealth.
More than 15 million Americans received some form of medical care remotely last year, according to the American Telemedicine Association, a trade group, and they expect those numbers to grow by 30% this year.
Those are staggering numbers. So, let’s dive deeper into this growing trend.
The California Health Care Foundation, CCHP, defines telehealth as:
“A collection of means or methods for enhancing health care,
public health, and health education delivery and support using
telecommunications technologies. Telehealth encompasses a broad
variety of technologies and tactics to deliver virtual medical, health,
and education services.”
The goal of telehealth is to provide and attain access to quality healthcare while living in rural or isolated communities. They’re finding it to be more convenient for people with limited mobility, time or transportation options. Access to medical specialists is now easier, and more affordable.
Medical practices are now able to improve communication and coordination of care among members of their team and their patient, providing higher levels of patient support than ever before. Telehealth examples include virtual appointments, remote monitoring, personal health apps, personal electronic health records, and the use of patient portals.
Patient portals are being used by hospitals and medical practices to provide online applications to allow patients to interact and communicate with their healthcare providers.
Benefits of consumerism and telehealth for the medical practice and the patient: There are many benefits for both the patient and the medical practice. Patients are beginning to actively engage in making decisions about their health and healthcare. Preferences are also becoming more sophisticated.
A McKinsey article stated, “Companies that can learn to understand, guide, and engage healthcare consumers, while inspiring their loyalty, have a significant opportunity to change the healthcare landscape.”
A great way to engage consumers is to improve their healthcare experiences. Consumers value ease, for example, the top two reasons why respondents said they are interested in online appointment scheduling were “convenience” and “saves time.”
One way to increase consumers’ convenience is to provide effective digital healthcare tools.
Greater consumer engagement could help them improve customer acquisition and retention, strengthen brand premium, lower administrative costs, and develop competitive advantages. Perhaps most important, enhanced consumer engagement has the potential to improve health outcomes
Patient consumerism has given rise to the need to not only provide transparency but also provide innovative ways to help manage healthcare.
Earlier, I introduced you to the concept of Telehealh.
Now let’s look at the main benefits to the patient and medical practice.
There are many benefits of telehealth systems. For patients and medical practices, the use of telemedicine technology allows patients to receive follow-up care and chronic illness management from their own home on the devices they already own and use. This is especially important for those who are homebound or have difficulty arranging travel.
For healthier patients, it reduces travel time and costs and requires less time away from work. As an added benefit, patients are not unnecessarily exposed to other, potentially contagious patients. In short, telemedicine removes many of the barriers preventing people from actively managing their health.
Telemedicine technology is great for providers as well. Its use can help extend clinical services to reach more patients efficiently and profitably. It helps improve health outcomes by increasing patient compliance with follow-up and chronic illness management. This strengthens patient relationships without putting additional strain on medical staff.
Challenges faced by both parties based on available technology, constraints, and adoption by the practice and the patient. While the acceptance and adoption of telemedicine by both patient and provider is growing rapidly and the benefits are well known, there are still some technical and practical problems each will experience.
For healthcare providers, a common concern to be aware of is the potential for reduced care continuity. If a medical practice’s patient uses an on-demand telemedicine service that connects them with a random healthcare provider, care continuity and care quality may suffer. A patient’s primary care provider may not have access to records from those other visits and end up with an incomplete history for the patient.
There are a plethora of technology solutions currently being used on the market now, and there are some fantastic developments on the way. Some providers allow patients to see a doctor to diagnose ailments via video consultations, some allow users to text a doctor at any time to ask basic health questions and find out whether a trip to the doctor’s office is necessary, and some are helping to re-engage the house-call doctor visit where patients can access on-demand doctors from every day of the week, while others now allow patients to skip the waiting room and receive urgent care by phone for non-emergency medical.
The future of telehealth: There’s a lot to be optimistic about the future of telemedicine. As Timbuk 3 so succinctly put it –
“The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”
With rapid advances in technology, it’s likely that telemedicine will only become easier and more widely accepted in the coming years. Already, smart glasses and smart watches can monitor patients’ health data and transmit them in real time to health professionals, and advances in robotic surgeries allow surgeons to operate on patients from afar.
I can envision an increase in acceptance of telehealth by medical professionals as the de facto standard of care. Where X-Rays, MRIs and CT Scans are routinely shared across medical practices, other care options provided by telehealth will become more commonplace, as well.
Bottom line: As I noted throughout this article, healthcare consumerism and telehealth are here to stay. With the rapid advancements in technology and the increasing costs of health care plans, this trend will only continue to rise. Medical providers who listen to their patients and adapt to their ever-changing needs, will not only see an increase in patient loyalty but an overall increase in revenue.