Digital Innovation Plays Role in Empowering Patients

October 5, 2015

This article is featured in the October Healthcare issue of O’Dwyer’s Magazine

Consumers, particularly in the US and UK, are increasingly relying on wearable technology and online patient gateways to manage their health, track weight loss and communicate with primary physicians. But what role has digital technology played in the evolution of general practices, and can a digitally empowered patient ultimately reduce the financial burden on healthcare globally?

By Niki Franklin, Sally Bain, and Victoria Winstanley

In the UK, primary care finds itself under a spotlight within the healthcare system. The British SecretaryRacepoint Global Healthcare VPs of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, is under fire from General Practitioners as he tries to introduce a new policy of seven-day GP appointments for all patients. It’s a topic of fierce debate in both the UK Parliament and amongst all UK health practitioners. Is it realistic, achievable or even desirable? And as the health secretary wants the UK’s National Health Service “to be a world class showcase of what innovation can achieve,” what role can digital health innovation play in the evolution of general practice?

Access to GP appointments is controversial. The GP patient survey, published in July 2015 by NHS England, reported that more than one in 10 people in England could not get an appointment with a GP or nurse. Early trials of seven day openings at GP practices, however, have suggested that uptake of weekend appointments is very low — one trial in Yorkshire was  abandoned after just one Sunday appointment was filled over the course of ten weeks.

According to media reports, GPs are overwhelmingly opposed to weekend openings. The head of the British Medical Association, Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, called the seven day plans “insulting” given GPs’ current workloads, and a campaign has been launched to oppose the policy.

Additionally, with the backdrop of economic austerity, the cost of prescription medication provided by the NHS is also gaining attention. UK taxpayers are charged £8.20 per prescription medication, regardless of the actual cost of the drug, which is usually much higher. Prescription medication is also provided free of charge to children, the elderly and those with low incomes and with long term conditions such as diabetes. There’s an increasing suggestion that patients need to be more cost aware and take an active role in their own care. With this in mind, the UK is planning to print the actual cost on packets of medication exceeding £20 in a bid to ensure patients take more personal responsibility for the use of resources.

So what is the answer to an outdated primary care system? Digital health offers powerful tools for GPs, including e-records, e-prescribing and remote e-consulting. With the rise of wearables and self-monitoring apps, should we encourage patients to use mHealth resources to take responsibility for their treatment and work in partnership with GPs? Is the digitally empowered patient the way forward for healthcare systems globally?

In the US, the story is similar while the cause remains different. The Affordable Care Act enrolled millions of uninsured Americans in insurance plans, providing access to care beyond the emergency room, which was often the only resource for many of the uninsured. A story Racepoint Global secured for its Stanford Children’s Health client in Modern Healthcare details the very real issues around access to specialty pediatric care. While the wait time for scheduling an appointment with a primary care physician is slowly getting shorter, a recent survey conducted by healthcare research group, Merrit Hawkins, revealed an average wait time of three months in 2009 and today, that wait has been shortened to an average of 19.5 days in the top 15 markets. Is the digital empowered patient making a difference?

Certainly, many healthcare industry leaders are hoping that technological ingenuity will continue to infuse the healthcare sector to not only create efficiencies between providers and payers but also with the patients.

Patient portals/gateways

The influx in popularity of patient portals/gateways doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. From gateways that had the potential to allow patients to communicate directly with their PCPs, change appointments and ask questions, the digitally empowered patient has graduated to accessing test results and telemedicine. This is an exciting angle Racepoint Global is actively pitching right now for our client, Stanford Children’s Health, which is doing amazing things via telemedicine.

The patient gateway is also exploding around diagnostics tools such as genetic screening. Diagnostic testing companies are creating portals for patients to be screened for genetic disorders they could develop or they carry. Patients can merely pay for a kit that is mailed out to them. They send in their saliva sample and the test results will determine the patient’s unique reproductive risks. Will this type of online functionality empower patients and reduce the burden on GPs? Or, will mayhem ensue as patients are not sure how to process the new information they can gather as a result of technology?

Wearables

The healthcare technology wearables sector is also booming. IDC Research predicts that by 2018, 70% of healthcare organizations worldwide will invest in consumer-facing technology including apps, wearables, remote monitoring and virtual care. A recent U.S. News and World Report article, secured by Racepoint Global’s own healthcare team, entitled, “How Big Data is Driving the Consumerization of Health Care,” depicts the value of wearable devices and how technology is enabling better care.

That growth is matched by consumer consumption. According to an October 2014 PricewaterhouseCoopers study, one in five Americans own wearable technology and over 80 percent of consumers said an important benefit of wearable tech is its potential to make healthcare more convenient.

So who are the consumers using healthcare wearables? According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, millennials are 55% more likely to own wearable technology compared to adults age 35 and over. And what are they using it for? According to the same survey, PricewaterhouseCoopers found that the top three pieces of information consumers wanted from wearables are health related. 77% want wearables to help them exercise better, 75% want them to collect and track medical information and 67% want wearables to help them eat better.

Talk to many healthcare industry leaders and they will tell you how wearables are going beyond health and lifestyle tracking to more acute medical situations like blood sugar and heart monitoring.

While the healthcare industry seems so “burdened” and “broken,” when you consider the role technology has already played in empowering the patient, the future seems bright as ultimately, empowering patients may be the solution.

These are just some of the questions that our clients are currently posing and answering as they challenge the way that healthcare systems operate with new and disruptive technology. It is our job at Racepoint Global to ensure that these messages are being communicated in the right way and to the right audiences to drive positive change in healthcare.

Niki Franklin, Sally Bain and Victoria Winstanley are Vice Presidents within Racepoint Global’s Healthcare Practice.

For more information about Racepoint Global’s Healthcare Practice, please contact: HealthcarePractice@racepointglobal.com

Racepoint Global Healthcare Ad

This advertisement was featured in the October Healthcare issue of O’Dwyer’s Magazine