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Putting Digital Health to Work

Paul Boal

Today, the most important information about our health-related behaviors is being used every second of the day to sell us things we don’t need but going completely unleveraged to help us improve our health outcomes. Since social determinants of health and patient engagement with healthcare decisions contribute more than any other factor to positive health outcomes[i],[ii] it follows to reason that the healthcare industry should be investing heavily in understanding everything they can about those critical levers. Yet, the main source of patient information and one of largest technology expenses by far for all health systems is the EHR, and the EHR knows very little about these critical data elements.  While your medical record in the EHR might capture ### distinct attributes of your health, it contains very little information about your health related behaviors such as where you eat, what food you shop for, how active you are, how much caffeine you consume, how much sleep you get. In contrast, digital marketing companies and data brokers have more than 1,500 such data points about most of us.[iii]

 

Increasing Digital Emphasis

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare leaders told us that digital health and better understanding patient engagement were two strategic initiatives being accelerated, by the crisis. (See What COVID-19 Could Mean for Healthcare Going Forward.) The executives we spoke with spent about half of our time together talking about digital health and engagement.

When healthcare providers had to start closing facilities to any non-critical or elective procedures and visits, the adoption of telemedicine was swift. One executive told us that through their push to deploy telemedicine capabilities, they were able to shorten a 3 to 5-year digital roadmap down to 18 months! It turns out that both patients and providers discovered they love e-visits, too. Given how we engage with so many other services digitally, it should be no surprise that the convenience of asynchronous and from-anywhere access is attractive for our health care as well. Now that we’ve broken through this mental roadblock, the executives we spoke with think other forms of digital engagement will accelerate, too.

 

Understanding Patients as Consumers

In the past, the industry has described the digital health revolution as one that primarily involves the collection of specific health data points: medical device measurements, metrics from personal fitness devices, genomic markers, medical imaging. Reread the opening paragraph above, though. Health outcomes are influenced as much or more by patient behavior as by the medical science.[iv] The next digital health revolution includes information about patient behaviors more broadly—information that digital marketing and media companies have been using to influence our consumption choices for decades. It seems time to begin using that information to encourage us to make better health decisions.

Executives told us that the healthcare industry post-COVID would be increasing their investments to understand how patients engage in their health. Recognizing that post-COVID levels of procedures and of revenue would only be 80-90% of their pre-COVID levels, healthcare executives recognize that the creation of supplementary revenue streams will require a broader understanding of their customers and a broader concept of the health services being provided by the industry.

 

Building Knowledge about Patients

To support patients in making choices that promote more positive outcomes will now require combining traditional medical information with data from digital health interactions and external information about patients to create a wholistic patient view. Seemingly daunting, this isn’t an exercise in collecting and managing petabytes of big data about each patient. Instead, building a meaningful digital profile of your patients requires linking together the right information from existing data sources into analytical solutions that are focused on health-related behaviors and health outcomes. Most healthcare systems don’t have this kind of behavior-centric analytical system today, but they will need one to manage patient engagement in the post-COVID reality of healthcare.

Data management and analytics strategies from the early 2000s won’t deliver the results that healthcare needs now. Amitech’s been leveraging modern data management and advanced healthcare analytics approaches to deliver positive business impacts in healthcare for the past decade. When you’re ready to talk about applying that experience to the next wave of digital health engagement, contact us.

 

Coming up Next…

Check back next week to get the scoop about what healthcare leaders are doing about payment models.



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[i] https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/hlthaff.2012.1061
[ii] https://www.modernhealthcare.com/patient-care/social-determinants-health-impact-members-health-outcomes-and-bottom-line#:~:text=Recent%20studies%20estimate%20that%20social,percent%20of%20a%20health%20outcome.
[iii] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-data-brokers-selling-your-personal-information/
[iv] To be clear, without any medical science, patient behavior wouldn’t matter either.  The emphasis here is required to show how disproportionately small efforts to understand patient behavior are.