Enabled by Technology
The common thread in nearly all consumer-driven healthcare initiatives is digitization. “Big data” and new technologies will enable organizations to adopt new products and services by simultaneously supporting personalization, superior clinical outcomes, and affordability. Although some technologies have yet to be widely adopted in healthcare, companies are already using new platforms to engage with consumers.
Healthcare companies have access to untold amounts of clinical and financial data. But to make it actionable, they need to convert this data into readily understandable information. When this information is made available and accessible to the consumer through personalized channels, it will affect their behavior—whether the information is a treatment reminder, a lifestyle suggestion, or direction to an optimal site of care. Some healthcare payors are now using the insights gleaned from data to create products and services that align their benefit structure with the individual’s needs. For example, Bloom Health, a Minnesota-based private health insurance exchange, uses big data and analytics to transfer decisions about health benefits from employers to employees. Its website includes a decision engine that asks employees a series of questions aimed at guiding them to the policy that best fits their needs, financial situation, and risk tolerance. In 2011, a trio of large insurers—WellPoint, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and the Health Care Service Corporation—purchased a 78 percent stake in the company. The rationale: They wanted to learn how to better develop and market benefit plans that would appeal to consumers.
Cloud computing will be another key technological enabler of consumerization, providing, for example, the platform for long-overdue interoperable electronic health records that can provide seamless transitions for patients and better clinical decision support for physicians. Nimbus Health, a Seattle-based startup, is using Amazon’s cloud services as a host for its Breeze Medical System, software that allows doctors to share medical records with other doctors and patients. Of course, any mention of cloud computing may raise concerns about privacy among consumers, especially when it comes to their medical history. Although industry security standards have made considerable headway, hospitals and other care providers will need to manage security requirements and risk carefully.
Telemedicine—remote monitoring and diagnosis—is a third enabler of consumer-centric healthcare. It promises improved access and lower care-delivery costs. After a successful pilot project with 6,000 patients in 2011, U.K. health minister Jeremy Hunt announced plans to deliver remote care to 100,000 chronically ill patients in 2013, and as many as 3 million patients by 2017. Patient conditions are monitored with remote devices, and patients who have health concerns can text their doctors instead of making appointments and traveling to see them.
Finally, given their ability to engage people, it should come as no surprise that mobile health (m-health) and social media can support the transition to consumerization. During epidemics in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been a leader in using social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia, to distribute information to the public across multiple channels, including smartphones. During the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, for example, the CDC used social media channels to disseminate information on behaviors for avoiding H1N1 and to teach people how to recognize its symptoms. The CDC is also tapping into the power of crowds to encourage people to become “health advocates” who pass health information through their own networks. It is expected that m-health and social media use among healthcare companies will increase, engaging consumers more in their own health and wellness. For example, they could use their smartphone to monitor prescriptions, track weight maintenance, and get medical appointment reminders.