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Increasing chronic care needs are incentivizing direct-tech services.
Personalized services are already a huge part of retail and financial sectors. Being able to reach patients with direct services using technology is even more critical as the need for chronic care continues to grow.
“Personalized approaches are so important because each individual’s health and well-being is highly complex,” says Yoona Kim, CEO and co-founder, Arine, a healthcare technology company located in San Francisco, that combines data science with clinical expertise via artificial intelligence (AI).
Many healthcare organizations are using technology as a way to add value to services. “We want our technology experiences to enhance human connection, not replace it,” says Nikki Caputo, senior director of experience and innovation, UCHealth.
For UCHealth, a nonprofit network of 12 acute care hospitals and more than 150 clinics throughout Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska, using voice-enabled technology started with a comprehensive AI strategy.
“Two years ago, we began to operationalize our conversational AI strategy. Voice has always been a piece of that. More importantly, it's about giving people choices to access information,” Caputo says.
In summer 2019, UCHealth began utilizing the Livi skill on Amazon Alexa smart speakers, as a virtual assistant for patients and their caregivers. Users are able to ask questions about health conditions and location information for practitioners or specific doctors.
“You can ask Livi to find the nearest urgent care and she'll tell you the closest location and follow up with a text message that includes contact information and driving directions,” Caputo says.
Caputo says that there are several use cases for voice-enacted technology and that the organization is cognizant of possible challenges.
“If Alexa can't understand the customer's voice when asking for a doctor's phone number, that's an issue,” Caputo says. “We want to use conversational AI to deliver more personalized experiences to build stronger relationships with our customers. To do that we need to make sure our integrations are fully secure.”
Telehealth is growing faster than any other healthcare option, according to a national study of insurance claims from 2016 to 2017 by Fair Health. The study found that telehealth claims increased by 53%, while claims to urgent care centers increased by 14% and retail clinics by 7%.
Retailers are investing in telehealth to increase engagement by offering more convenient options to patients. Walgreens announced plans to close 160 clinics and increase the reach of its telehealth platform, Walgreens Find Care, focusing on diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and asthma patients.
“We believe that by integrating connected care devices, digital therapeutics and the pharmacy experience, we’ll help individuals better manage their chronic conditions while also lowering the overall cost of care,” said Giovanni Monti, vice president and director of healthcare innovation, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.
Though telehealth options continue to grow, a 2019 survey conducted by J.D. Power found that only 10% of healthcare consumers have used it.
“Once providers and payers refine the formula for awareness and adoption, telehealth will change the landscape of how affordable and quality care is delivered,” says Greg Truex, managing director of health intelligence, J.D. Power.
AI for chronic care patients
At the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, a pilot using AI to engage patients who need user-friendly medication monitoring has expanded across the health system of more than 800,000 patients.
The program utilizes AI technology from Arine’s Virtual Pharmacist platform to continuously monitor patients’ conditions and recommend changes to care plans and medications. During the pilot, 92% of care plan adjustments were implemented by physicians and the health system saw a 40% reduction in hospitalizations.
“Our platform makes use of a sophisticated feedback loop where our data-driven clinical interventions can be continuously improved upon to achieve specific treatment goals for an individual, driving clinical and economic outcomes,” Kim says, adding that a combination of hands-on care from practitioners informed by AI’s personalization will give patients the maximum benefit.
“One of the biggest things we learned was that patients don’t respond to generic interventions or engagement techniques, even if these are aimed at improving their well-being at no additional out-of-pocket cost,” Kim says. “AI can help healthcare organizations understand how and when to best intervene on a patient given their unique circumstances.”
Donna Marbury is a writer in Columbus, Ohio.