The missing ‘care’ in healthcare. Can connected tech fill the gaps?
In 2019, the United States spent $3.8 trillion on healthcare, about 18% of the nation's GDP, notes the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The number rose to $4.1 trillion or $12,530 per person in 2020 Historical | CMS, which is expected to keep growing.
While numbers suggest that the global healthcare industry is one of the largest and fastest growing industries today, access to healthcare is still a concern in most countries. Even countries that spend more on healthcare face significant problems when it comes to encouraging preventative healthcare and managing existing diseases efficiently.
Patients visit hospitals when they're sick. A move towards prevention, and caring for health can help patients avoid the disease state altogether.
The Covid-19 pandemic triggered another need for change in the world of healthcare. Bound to their homes, patients did not want to step out and were seeking out services while staying indoors, leading to a growing discussion around connected healthcare.
Anywhere healthcare is connected healthcare
Also called technology enabled healthcare, experts believe that this phenomenon is here to stay. And this technology enablement extends to right where the patients are, says Saurabh Gupta of HFS Research.
“Connected healthcare essentially means providing healthcare services outside of clinics or labs or hospitals, providing health care at your home or wherever you need, with the help of digital technology,” says Gupta.
“Anywhere healthcare is connected healthcare,” he emphasizes.
Technological advancements are playing an increasingly important role in the system by connecting patients with the rest of the ecosystem.
These interventions are not only accelerating the path for preventive care but are also driving the focus on taking care of long-term conditions and chronic diseases, which make up for a majority of patient visits and emergency room visits in several countries.
A case in point is diabetes, wherein connected healthcare leverages access to technology and the Internet to help manage the patient’s health.
Experts believe that not only can this help patients make much better decisions when they need it but can also open up all sorts of different mechanisms of helping patients and improving health care.
Data must be at the center
The biggest opportunity in connected healthcare is the enormous amount of data that gets generated through wearables. Today, nearly 70% of all top selling wearables are dedicated to health and fitness. And these devices generate huge amounts of data.
Gupta of HFS considers this a huge opportunity.
“You can find patterns in it, and then figure out what's the next best action that needs to be taken,” he says.
Infosys’ Subhro Mallik believes this as well.
“We can run analytics. We can then go back and provide the data back to the patient saying, ‘either we need to increase your medication level because it doesn't seem like your insulin levels are being controlled, or you need to change your health regimen,’” says Mallik.
Making sense of data, and taking appropriate decisions is a huge leap, and has the power to take the treatment much closer to the patients’ needs.
Connected care is a two-way street
Owing to COVID-19 restrictions the world has seen a surge in demand for connected health in the past year. According to an industry report, it is expected to grow at an annual rate of 15.1% from 2021 to 2028.
Despite the opportunities presented by connected healthcare, experts are clear that while there is a demand from seekers of healthcare, there needs to be acceptance at several levels across the ecosystem.
In the US healthcare system, for instance, there are healthcare insurers, health care providers, life sciences companies, medical devices companies, pharmacies, the government, and the patient.
“Connected healthcare is great, but what we really need is a hyper connected healthcare,” says HFS’ Gupta, while adding, “It essentially means we not only connect the provider with the patient, but with the entire ecosystem.”
“Right now, all these stakeholders are somewhat disconnected,” he says.
On the one hand, there is a pull from customers, who are seeking anytime, anywhere healthcare support, on the other, there are healthcare professionals who prefer seeing a patient in person.
Mallik talks about the latter’s possibility and says, “Then you're back to the point of where a patient has to make a visit to the physician.”
“The payers don't want you to go to the hospital and the hospitals want you to come to the hospital, because that's how they earn their revenues,” adds Gupta.
With care come opportunities, money and challenges
This changing consumer behaviour, where the pull of changing consumer demand patterns are leading to a change in how medical devices companies, pharma companies, doctors or even insurance companies are looking at business opportunities.
The push element is if companies can create new revenue streams or business models.
“As companies look at connected healthcare, many companies are looking at whether they can launch new services in the market where they can take their medication or the device and come up with real revenue models,” says Mallik.
“Maybe working with the physicians, maybe working with the provider, or in some instances, maybe monetizing the data on its own,” he adds.
Gupta agrees, saying that companies such as medical device makers have treasure troves of patient data.
“If you take care of the privacy and the security of the data, it can become an asset,” he says.
This asset can also turn into a huge challenge in the form of data privacy and security, the experts share a unanimous concern, and this needs to be tackled at all times.
All roads lead to preventive healthcare
Once, however, the hurdles are crossed, there can be a massive surge in how digital health is being applied across various treatment regimes.
In the future, devices can not only help manage a patients’ disease state with very little intervention from the patient, but even make it simpler for patients to make decisions themselves. An encouraging move towards preventive healthcare.
There could be an encouraging move towards a move towards preventive healthcare as well.
“Current interventions that we can potentially do using some of the digital health technologies, which are out there, will only accelerate the path to making preventive care potentially the first way of managing somebody's disease,” says Mallik of Infosys while sharing his view that in there should be a massive surge in the implementation of digital, or connected health.
Both experts believe that real progress will take place when people, process, technology, data, and a shift in mindset come together resulting in a positive change in a patient's healthcare experience.