If our healthcare system were an actual patient, it would be grappling with significant ailments: an aging population, an increase in the prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes — not to mention the rising cost of care and the inherent challenges in delivering personalized care.
Fortunately for this patient, the prognosis is optimistic due to the ongoing developments in connected health.
Connected health uses technology to improve how healthcare is delivered to patients. It’s made possible, in part, by technologies that simply haven’t existed until now (at least not in their current form): high-speed internet, smartphones, sensors, cloud computing, and big data, to name a few. This creates a stronger connection between patient and provider — one that delivers health-related information and insights faster than before, with more accuracy and relevance. It is designed to provide more efficient personalized care that also benefits providers.
What Are the Long-Term Benefits?
With capabilities like remote monitoring of patient heart rates and glucose levels, providers can detect warning signs and take preventative measures or make an early diagnosis. When a patient’s full medical history is readily available electronically to a team of healthcare providers, that allows more informed care decisions, more personalized care, and can help reduce medical errors.
Connected health also enables patients to manage their health better at home, with fewer visits to the doctor or hospital. For example, some connected health programs have been shown to reduce readmissions for congestive heart failure. When the use of healthcare services are reduced, that lowers costs for both patients and providers.
Widespread Adoption — and How to Overcome Data-Sharing Hurdles
It is easy to see how technology advances resonate with consumers who want to improve their health, considering the proliferation of fitness trackers, smart watches, and health-related apps. Now more than ever, consumers value control. That certainly applies to their wellness decisions — and connected health can provide the information flow and flexibility that gives consumers additional reassurance.
Consider the results from a recent Accenture survey of nearly 8,000 Americans aged 18 years and older: Forty-six percent use apps for health information and wellness, and 33 percent use wearables. Even more striking is the rapid pace of adoption — since 2014, health app usage has tripled, and wearable use has nearly quadrupled.
But the promise of connected health extends beyond apps and wearables. Other forms include big data that aids diagnosis, and sensors that create “smart homes” to monitor the wellness of older adults and detect if they’ve fallen (or didn’t get out of bed in the morning). Another example, telemedicine, has evolved dramatically from the early days of 1950s closed-circuit TV psychiatric consultations. A research project in Sweden has used off-the-shelf hardware (like Kinect motion sensors originally designed for gaming systems) to develop a telemedicine system that helps stroke patients recover at home, with physical therapists coaching them remotely as they move their limbs to control on-screen avatars.
To fulfill the promise of connected health, one hurdle that must be addressed is consumer concern about sharing health data. Accenture’s survey showed 90 percent of respondents would trust their doctor with data from wearables, 72 percent would trust their insurance plan — but when asked if they would trust their employer, that number dropped to 38 percent.
An Ernst & Young national survey looked more broadly at consumer’s willingness to share health-related information — and also highlighted incentives to encourage information sharing. When asked if they were interested in sharing lifestyle information with their physician, 26 percent of consumers said yes. That number jumped to 55 percent when consumers were told it could reduce costs and 61 percent when told it could reduce wait times.
As more consumers sign up for high-deductible health plans, they will seek providers with proven methods for lowering costs. Millennials will certainly help drive interest in connected health, considering how technology pervades their lives and also their expectations for choice and customization in anything they purchase. Whether it’s with diagnostic testing from home, remote consultations, or data-driven insights that prompt early diagnosis, providers looking to reduce costs and enhance patients’ experience will continue to explore connected health as a competitive edge.