Next, the healthcare industry must figure out how to make use of a new information source: patient-generated data.
Patient-generated data, or PGD, is a buzz phrase, but what does it actually look like? Any health or medical data a patient inputs electronically is considered patient-generated data. PGD emanates from a wide spectrum of technology, from wellness apps to at-home tests for clinical diagnoses. Even consumer activity-tracking devices such as Fitbit and Nike FuelBand could become sources of PGD.
The healthcare industry needs to undergo a cultural shift that emphasizes customer satisfaction and patient interaction more. In industries such as retail or automotive, customer-centric technology is not only expected, but required. Think of Amazon's customer service reputation. That level of service has become the customer standard, and the healthcare industry is starting to heed this standard.
[ PGD helps doctors help patients. Read Patient-Generated Mobile Data Improves Clinical Care. ]
In addition to new mobile and wireless technology, patient expectations are changing and the industry is beginning to recognize the value of PGD in caring for patients and keeping costs low. For example, new federal payment rules will penalize hospitals for patients who must be readmitted soon after a discharge; that gives hospitals an incentive to remotely monitor things such as blood pressure, glucose levels or even physical activity to head off readmissions. Such monitoring involves PGD.
Digital patient engagement is the future of healthcare technology, said John Halamka, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
"The next days of our work will be patient-generated data," Halamka said. "We'll have EHR data, cost and quality metrics and patient data. It's not only looking continuously from the outside, but assessing care from the patient's perspective."
PGD potentially can affect the bottom line for hospitals because of increased efficiency and quality of outcomes. The pre-admission process for hospitals and individual practitioners can be streamlined with digitalized patient input. Instead of patients filling out a two-page questionnaire with a clipboard and having a physician staff member input that information into a computer, patients can input personal information directly using a tablet or computer, either at home or in the office, and free that staff member to focus on patient care. This type of PGD includes current medications, pre-existing conditions, medical history and family history.
Other cost-saving technologies are emerging on the medical side of the field. Researchers at the University of Chicago are designing an at-home glaucoma test to allow patients to take a diagnostic test for glaucoma with their desktop computer for free. The test, currently called Simfield, takes about eight minutes. Patients are told to focus on an orange light on the screen and press the spacebar whenever they see a light flash.
The early stages of PGD have been mostly patient portals -- websites where patients can manage appointments, view lab results and communicate with their physicians via email. This email interaction is key. A patient who can email a physician for minor issues such as prescription re-fills or quick treatment questions is more likely to follow up because of the ease of communication.
These portals are also useful for physician follow-ups. A main cause of depression re-occurrence is due to a lack of timely follow-ups to monitor medication efficacy, said Jim Walker, principal healthcare informatician at Siemens, which offers its own patient portal called MobileMD. If patients received follow-up questionnaires they could electronically submit to the physician two months after treatment began, it could improve outcomes.