Are Healthcare Consumers at the Forefront of Digital Health?

Friday, March 21, 2014 12:03

By Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA and Ben Heubl

Simply put, healthcare is about the patient. Healthcare is a multidisciplinary team approach and patients are at the center of healthcare.

The urge to understand healthcare and medicine from the perspective of the patient, or consumer, is something that even key stockholders fail to understand, writes David Shaywitz in a Forbes piece. The author refers to an article from The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) “What Patients Really Want From Health Care” by Allan S. Detsky, MD, PhD.

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What Patients Want: Access to services in a timely fashion

According to the article, what patients want most is to restore their health when they are ill. Simply, they want to get better, and the primary focus is to relieve illness and symptoms rather than focus on prevention. They want access to services in a timely fashion, and they want to have hope and be offered options that might help them. Patients want continuity of care. They want to build relationships and partner with their providers. They want a private room with their own bathroom, and to they want to pay as little as possible from their own out-of-pocket expenses. Patients want highly qualified clinicians and the best physicians.

Healthcare Innovation-Patients at the center

Understanding what patients want from healthcare is a central theme of healthcare innovation. The landscape of healthcare is rapidly changing with the rise of digital and wireless technology. Having access to healthcare is essential. Latest developments in technology and digital health in the United States and Europe could mean that consumer health is transforming into ‘shopping’ for health access.

Dr. Mohit Misra, Project Lead, London Health Commission, said to Heubl, co-author of this post, that he aims to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), among them consumer facing innovation concepts, to establish and scale in London. He emphasizes that improving access for patients is vital everywhere, and technology needs to be leveraged to do so.

Digital Health and the consumer

Consumer healthcare has expanded into the digital world. Digital Health defined by Paul Sonnier, curator of the Digital Health Group on Linked with more than 24,000 members to date, as the convergence of the digital and genetics revolutions with health and healthcare. Next to increase empowerment for our own health, it also helps to reduce inefficiencies in healthcare delivery, improve access, reduce costs, increase quality, and make medicine more personalized and precise.

Precise and personalized medicine is important to healthcare consumers. And as we mentioned earlier, consumers want to receive access to care in a timely fashion. Dr. Misra stated to Hebul that good access is about being able to get the right medical advice when you need it urgently, but also having more choices about when and how you see your doctor or medical professional for more routine follow ups is important.

Digital technology helps to empower and engage consumers to take charge of their health, and it fosters consumers to be active participants in their healthcare. Digital health introduced into the vast marketplaces for consumers is redefining the term consumer healthcare. Digital health access gives you personalized information based on data the consumer enters. Digital health includes an ecosystem of solutions outside of established healthcare systems.

Health Access 2.0 – EU learns from the US

According to Pew Research, 72% of internet users in the US say they have looked online for health information in the past year. But healthcare can really learn from the travel, retail and financial services industries where digital access improved their ecosystems, said Lloyd Price, co-founder of Zesty, an online healthcare appointment service in London.

The US traditionally has been strong in marketing healthcare to its consumers – and now, it seems, healthcare access innovation is to follow. MobiHealthNews reported that the US consumer-facing Digital Health SME sector is worth $3.6 billion with 270 patient-facing digital health companies.

Companies like ZocDoc, Practice Fusion, iTriage, Aetna’s App, AskMD* and the health system Kaiser Permanente now provides healthcare faster and gives choices and responsibility back to the consumer. Effectively, some of these digital health concepts now offer precisely what Dr. Detsky described. Quick, timely and convenient access to healthcare is at the top of the list. That is where we have seen the biggest successes for digital health. [*Full Disclosure: Ficarra is on the Advisory Board of Sharecare.]

ZocDoc, for instance, announced its plans to expand nationwide. Companies like Keldoc in France, Dottori in Italy, and other companies in Sweden and Germany, are reinventing consumer health by making access to appointments a consumer play.

In the US, one company that clearly understands consumer healthcare is Kaiser Permanente. Ravi Poorsina, Communications Manager at Kaiser Permanente said to  Heubl, in an email, that KP believes that by providing patients 24/7 online access with critical time-saving features, it empowers members and supports their ability to better manage their care. Poorsina said by developing KPs ‘My Health Manager’ and its mobile version, they provide members easy and convenient access to all of the health information and tools they need to manage their health and connect with their care providers.  Including online appointment scheduling, prescription refill, secure e-mail messaging with care providers, and access to test results. Poorsina said, Kaiser Permanente has more than 4.4 million members registered for ‘My Health Manager’, and in 2013 the platform refilled 14.8 million prescriptions and scheduled 3.7 million appointments.

In the UK, the leading online healthcare appointment service Zesty* is changing how the public search and books healthcare appointments. Zesty for example has proved that one small tech startup can improve the public and private healthcare market altogether. Zesty helps thousands of patients in London every month to book NHS and private healthcare appointments on their laptops, tablets and smartphones in less than 60 seconds, said Lloyd Price, COO and Co-founder of Zesty. [Full Disclosure: Heubl is on the Advisory Board of Zesty]

Future of digital health emerges

As the future of digital health emerges, we see the healthcare ecosystem change significantly. Digital health access solutions are perfectly positioned to be the catalyst for change and improvement in the ecosystem, said Price. Price believes that any of these companies that will market new health access solutions will be private players. First trialing and offering new health services outside of the system. These companies will also quickly figure out how to brand and market these services to consumers, said Price.

The future for consumer health is unwritten. Access to healthcare needs to become more consumer friendly. With the latest market and technology developments, both in the UK and US, the industry is heading in the right direction as long as they keep the patient front and center.

Your turn

Do you feel that consumers are at the forefront of digital health? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. As always thank you for your valuable time.

Connect with me | Stay in touch

 TEDMED Great Challenges-Medical Communication-Barbara Ficarra

About Co-Author Ben Heubl

Ben Heubl Co-Author

Ben Heubl

Ben Heubl is a digital health advocate, activist and journalist for Health 2.0 innovation. Heubl is speaker at various healthcare innovation conferences and events, a TEDMED delegate, founded the non-for-profit organization Health 2.0 Copenhagen, mentor at the HealthXL accelerator, and writes for various online magazines in the context of digital health innovation and technology. Heubl currently supports a UK health innovation SME to change how citizens access healthcare. You can follow him on Twitter. (@benheubl)





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