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Technology is enabling healthcare consumers the freedom to choose. With increasing choices, convenience is at the forefront of the next evolution of healthcare, and companies need to focus on delivering great end-to-end experiences to meet the needs of today’s consumers.
Consumers today live in a vastly different environment than decades past. Thanks to conveniences led by mobile devices and artificial intelligence, we expect everything to be immediately available at our fingertips and personalized to our needs. Unfortunately, illness doesn’t care about your schedule or whatever else you have going on and as a result, you may need to wait longer and travel further than you’d like.
According to data from the Pew Research Center, millennials find going to the doctor to be inconvenient and are also “significantly less likely to schedule preventive visits.” That is no surprise when you consider that the average wait time for an appointment with a new family medicine physician in many major cities is now 29.3 days. Millennials represent the largest group in the U.S. labor force and as they interact with the healthcare system more, the industry needs to meet the demand for personalization, convenience, and ultimately, give people greater control.
Here are 3 ways that convenience will be driving the future of healthcare:
Today’s consumers are more likely to be cost conscious and driven to seek out and research information they need to make health care decisions. Millennials are used to being able to easily search for and compare any type of product online and expect to see personalized recommendations and ads as they browse. User accounts and payment methods can be easily integrated with different websites, facilitating an end-to-end experience. Where time spent on a website used to be an important metric, it’s now more about measuring the ability to accomplish more desired tasks quickly.
The healthcare industry needs to shift its focus to delivering a great user experience with valuable treatment insights, with the goal of making health care decision making simpler and more informed. The convenience play here is about respecting consumers’ and providers’ time in being able to get a diagnosis and begin treatment faster and easier.
For consumers, the healthcare industry needs to take note of how tech and retail industries engage with consumers to keep up. Easily accessible data on what to expect, costs, and insurance coverage empower people to have a conversation with their care providers about treatment options. Consumers should be able to seamlessly learn about, decide, and buy healthcare services like they do anything else.
For providers, an integrated approach can offer a complete 360-degree view of a patient by aggregating demographics, eligibility, potential gaps in care, future clinical and utilization predictions, and pharmacy, medical and dental claims. This information often takes a great deal of time to digest, but with an integrated platform, a patient’s health history can be presented in an easy to absorb way, resulting in more time to discuss options and a patient’s preference rather than spending limited time reviewing an inventory of history and symptoms.
With increased demand for personalized care, the adoption of artificial intelligence and machine-learning is increasing rapidly. These technologies can help expedite the evaluation of large-scale data sources that include a patient’s genomic, behavioral and longitudinal health records and allow us to preemptively reach out and engage the patient when medical interventions or conversations are necessary. The convenience play here is about adding value through making better decisions with more information at a faster rate. Technology is enabling this.
For example, with remote patient monitoring devices, the provider now can get a steady feed of data to analyze. These devices tend to reduce the burden on the patient to collect and send data, which is yet another form of convenience playing out, and the data submitted is analyzed using data science to accelerate the interpretation of the results for the provider, which is a form of convenience for the provider. As a result, everyone benefits from earlier detection of potential health events, and less human effort is needed to achieve these better results.
Furthermore, artificial intelligence can help enhance provider diagnoses, and in some cases, enable patient self-care for routine treatments. Even how we communicate is being made more convenient, as natural language processing makes it possible for consumers to have conversations with words they understand, mimicking human dialog rather than relying on medical terminology.
Virtual care is convenient because it enables care to be delivered with greater availability (i.e., time) and removes distance as a barrier (e.g. rural or heavy traffic areas). Virtual medicine has proven its value in a variety of health care specialties and settings, being utilized in everything from urgent care to management of chronic conditions like arthritis, depression and diabetes. From telehealth phone or video chats to store-and-forward platforms to remote diagnostic devices, we have come a long way in the trajectory of virtual care.
As a personal anecdote, in 2009 I experienced telehealth in a way I never expected, for the unplanned home birth of my son. Like most parents, my wife and I diligently attended our weekly visits with our doctor and prepared for every possible detail. The due date wasn’t for another two to three weeks and everything was progressing normally. On one of those days my wife began experiencing light contractions and shortly thereafter, her water broke. It was frighteningly obvious that there was no time to get to the hospital.
Nothing can prepare you for your wife giving birth on the Ikea sofa you bought for your first apartment together. The 911 emergency operator asked me a series of questions: what to grab, what to look for, and how to wrap the baby, all the while sending eight firemen, one medic, and four emergency vehicles to our home. My son was born before help arrived, but thanks to the operator’s guidance, the delivery went smoothly.
While many of us will probably continue to visit brick and mortar providers for care like child birth, people are looking to telehealth and other forms of virtual medicine more and more as a convenient option to manage routine care. Demand will only grow as digitally native millennials increasingly access health services.
The convenience play here is about focusing on the consumer and delighting them with care options based on how they want it, when they want it, and where they want it. Some consumers may want to video chat with a doctor, some may want to submit their symptoms via an app on their phone, and others may want a provider to visit them at home. Remote diagnostic and monitoring devices that improve communication frequency and accuracy between patient and provider will continue to grow and the amount of useful data points available for diagnosis, treatment, and maintenance will expand. Technology is enabling all of that to happen and offering consumers an unprecedented amount of freedom.
While a lot has changed in the capabilities around the delivery of convenient health care to consumers since my son was born, the challenges remain the same: getting sick or needing unexpected care is inherently “inconvenient.”
By offering patients extended hours, minimal wait times, and low out-of-pocket costs for conditions like ear infections, bronchitis, and more, we’ve seen a spike in retail clinics, urgent-care centers, telehealth kiosks, and online video visits. However, it’s important to understand that convenient care is about more than just on-demand access to medical professionals, it is also about offering an integrated, coordinated approach that facilitates a holistic view of the patient, and taking the insights about the patient to improve health outcomes.
My first experience with telehealth undoubtedly shapes how I do my job today. Options for getting a diagnosis and treatment for consumers anytime of the day, anywhere you are, and through any modality you prefer are developing quickly and new innovations are being introduced all the time to bring all those pieces and all relevant parties together. Convenience is at the forefront of coordinated care, which will reshape this industry and drive us into the next evolution. Perhaps when my son becomes a dad one day… virtually assisted baby deliveries will be his family’s choice rather than a stressful surprise.
Brodie Dychinco, is general manager of Convenient Care Delivery, Cambia Health Solutions.