There are few industries in the United States more complicated than healthcare. Federal and state regulations, ICD coding changes, NCQA ratings, insurance partnerships, staffing management, patient accessibility - the list of complexities that healthcare providers must navigate goes on and on, and that’s without even mentioning the most important one: healthcare outcomes.
As a population, the US is struggling to stay healthy. The middle-aged are less healthy year over year, and a greater proportion of seniors require help with daily activities. When coupled with increased premium and deductible costs, a shortage of primary care physicians, and reimbursement rates tied to patient experience, the challenge of providing everyone with accessible, affordable, and effective healthcare seems daunting.
But new technologies are emerging that offer enormous potential to healthcare providers. Although still in their infancy, these tools and devices may be the key to wrangling in the challenges facing healthcare providers over the next decade. Here are the three tech trends that have the greatest potential to transform US healthcare:
The shortage of healthcare professionals has led to an increased difficulty of getting in to see a doctor. The American Association of Medical Colleges predicts that the US will need 90,000 more physicians by 2025 just to keep pace with demand for treatment.
The end result of this shortage is that the average wait time to schedule an appointment has grown from 18 days in 2014 to 24 days in 2016. Rural areas are disproportionately affected by higher shortages in personnel, and rural patients must often drive much farther to access healthcare providers.
Telehealth platforms like Teladoc are partnering with recognized hospitals like Mount Sinai Health System in New York, and Jefferson Health in Philadelphia to make qualified physicians available to patients anytime and anywhere. Being able to access a doctor in minutes remotely means a reduced administrative burden for physicians’ offices, faster, easier access to help for patients, and an expanded range of influence for doctors.
The concept of accessing medical care and advice anywhere through your mobile phone, tablet, or PC has the potential to completely transform the way patients connect with their doctors. The consumer demand for telehealth has led to some extraordinary market results, like Teladoc recently posting 100% revenue growth in 2017.
2. Health Education & Monitoring
Access to healthcare is the first step in improving health outcomes, but seeing a doctor doesn’t always guarantee that a patient will follow their orders. The truth is, patient adherence and compliance is a significant struggle for the US healthcare system, with non-adherence costing a mind-blowing $290 billion a year, equivalent to 2.3% of our national gross domestic product.
Two keys to improving patient adherence are driving better patient education, as well as constant positive reinforcement and reminders about therapeutic compliance.
Improving engagement and creating a personalized experience for the individual improve patient education and awareness. New tools are being implemented that introduce this advanced level of interactivity and personalization - in doctors’ offices, electronics like virtual and augmented reality devices, iPads and other tablets, and even humanoid robotics are being leveraged to enhance education methods and improve patient satisfaction.
Also driving adherence is the burgeoning market of mobile health applications. Mobile apps are being fully integrated into healthcare provider networks and allow doctors to send their patients automated reminders about medications and care. These apps allow doctors to set and track patient progress toward health goals, and in advanced cases, enable doctors to monitor critical information around serious conditions like diabetes. The end result of mobile applications permeating healthcare is an estimated $46 billion in short-term savings.
3. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI has an incredible range of applications in the healthcare industry. Each use case either directly improves patient care, or indirectly improves it by automating easier tasks for doctors, allowing them to spend more time with patients. These are some examples of how AI is actively working to improve healthcare:
- ZocDoc uses AI to help patients connect with doctors faster while also automating some tedious back-end office functions.
- Software developers created doc.ai, a conversational chatbot that teaches its users how to live a healthier lifestyle based on their specific medical conditions.
- Engineers are using artificial intelligence to make prosthetic limbs smarter, designing “robotic” arms with sensory technology that reacts to its environment, providing the user with a better experience and a more tactile interaction.
- IBM has partnered with MedyMatch, deploying deep learning and machine vision technologies that help physicians identify and treat brain bleeds.
Additionally, Wired Magazine recently published a great overview of the personal healthcare robots poised to enter the market shortly. All of these technologies are working to optimize the patient experience, creating impact inside and outside of the doctor’s office to help people establish a healthier, more satisfying lifestyle.
The Bottom Line
The healthcare industry is facing a set of clear and important challenges as we speak. Thankfully, technology trends driving telehealth, education, monitoring, and artificial intelligence stand ready to provide hard working medical professionals with the support they need. As these tech trends become established practices, patients stand to benefit in every aspect of their journey, from greater accessibility to medical expertise, better education, more personalized treatment, and lower costs. Providers are rewarded with more time to spend with their most vulnerable patients, helpful insights through data, and stronger operational efficiency in their practices. These advantages will hopefully come together to take a multi-billion dollar bite out of wasted healthcare spend while producing a healthier, happier population.