Healthcare is a complex system that works much like human biology. It is vast, difficult to change, and designed to survive and evolve. Unlike a biological system, however, it's artificial and can be changed relatively quickly when there's a compelling reason to do so.
Over the next decade healthcare will look very different from the way it's looked for the last 30 years. Changing market forces, rising consumer demands, and technology -- particularly digitization -- will create a radical shift in how and where healthcare services are delivered.
As thousands of health IT professionals gather later this month at the annual HIMSS conference, a key theme will be the convergence of patient data, digital technology, and analytics, which is enabling emerging opportunities such as location-independent care and social platforms.
Thanks to recent advances in technology, many services once available only in hospitals can be delivered nearly anywhere, as long as the required care and business models are supported. Research on the "hospital at home" concept demonstrated that over 20 years ago.
[How can healthcare IT combat medical identity theft? Read HIMSS Security Survey: Greatest Threat From Healthcare Insiders.]
Most of the work involved to achieve a positive health outcome occurs outside the walls of a physician's office. Consider diabetes, for example. It is one of the highest-cost diseases to manage in both developed and developing health systems. The best way to improve outcomes is often through the things a patient does to self-manage a condition outside the physician's office. However, patient records usually don't reflect these day-to-day details as they occur outside the physician's office.
Some providers are already combining virtual health services with consumer platforms such as video technologies, and this trend continues to gain acceptance worldwide. For example, Accenture has helped the Basque Country in Spain deploy a telehealth platform that enables patients to access health services using an Xbox Kinect console. In its first year, research shows the program has eliminated 52,000 hospital visits and achieved a 7% cost reduction per patient. Other emerging solutions, such as clinical triage tools, can analyze patient information remotely and determine whether a medical condition warrants an online visit in which a physician can diagnose the problem, recommend treatment, and send a prescription immediately to the patient's pharmacy.
Virtual health technologies offer patients greater convenience by providing timely access to care at home, in the workplace, or virtually anywhere.
Crowdsourcing: enabling new data sources for population management
When a group of individuals on Patients Like Me self-organized a clinical trial and discovered that a common off-label use of a drug did not improve complications of Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS), they proved that a relatively dangerous drug did not really work as intended, and the therapy was discontinued. Such patient-led clinical trials make a compelling case for using crowdsourcing as a tool to identify real-time insights on patient care. The next wave of healthcare will also center on collecting new information such as patient-reported outcomes and behavioral data to identify patterns that contribute to the onset of a disease. Just a few years ago, such patient-assembled data was often discarded as untrusted or "noisy" due to quality concerns.
Social data enables individuals to identify and measure key behavioral and social trends that can contribute to more positive outcomes. Like patient-provided data in the past, social data seems to be the new "noise" in healthcare. But it can become more valuable and relevant over time, especially from a population health perspective. For example, diseases such as multiple sclerosis may not be treated with just a single-disease-modifying therapeutic, but rather with a dozen different supporting therapies. Social data could help medical practitioners by enabling an authentic lens on various issues, services, and activities that can enhance the overall effectiveness of the care regimen.
While social platforms such as Patients Like Me or Big White Wall (UK) have enabled patients to connect with others with similar health interests and conditions, crowdsourcing will emerge as the next wave of this social data trend. For example, FluNearYou, a popular mobile app hosted by the Boston Children's Hospital, has individuals nationwide answer a few short questions to track influenza prevalence and symptoms in various geographic locations. Similarly, recognizing the value of social data in population health management, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) launched a competition for designing a model that uses social data to predict flu outbreaks.
Consumers clearly want to play a bigger role in their medical care, and evidence suggests engaging them offers important benefits. Empowered patients are more informed and motivated patients. What's more, healthcare providers who empower their patients are differentiating themselves in an increasingly competitive marketplace as the challenges of 21st century healthcare -- aging populations, rising rates of chronic disease, and increasingly expensive treatments -- intensify. By working with patients as co-managers of their health, leading providers are forging a path toward better, more effective care.
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