Originally published in Medical Economics
Innovative technologies offer powerful potential to providers, patients, and payors
If the last year and a half has taught us anything, it’s that the future is rather unpredictable. That being said, it pays to take a clear-eyed look at the powerful potential that existing and emerging digital technologies offer for improving the quality of patient care in 2022 and beyond.
Here are five ways that digital health is reshaping the health care environment:
1. Proactive, predictive, personalized digital health management enhances care.
When patients think about digital health, they typically envision the opportunity to have a telehealth/virtual visit with a caregiver because they don’t feel well or are experiencing symptoms that concern them. However, it’s time to start thinking about digital health in a much broader perspective – the capability to anticipate and address issues before serious or life-threatening health concerns arise.
Specifically, remote patient monitoring (RPM) – a key component of virtual care – will increasingly help clinicians proactively manage post-acute and chronic care using a highly personalized, data-informed approach. Step One is to establish a personalized profile for each at-risk patient using artificial intelligence (AI)-based analytics applied to continuous real-world patient data captured by wearable sensors. Step Two is to identify and alert clinicians about anomalies specific to that individual patient that can signal potential health problems.
For example, rather than comparing a patient with heart failure to millions of others living with the same condition, this technology can determine the baseline at which an individual patient has been functioning and safely living. By tracking changes in sleep, exercise, vital signs or other physiological measures, clinicians can intervene proactively to prevent or mitigate issues in a more personalized approach.
The result is a win-win-win: clinicians may improve quality of care, hospitals may reduce unnecessary and costly readmissions, and patients may remain in their own homes longer, more comfortably, and more confidently.
2. Hospital-at-home options enable providers to maximize resources.
The pandemic vividly underscores the challenges health systems face when seriously ill patients outnumber available hospital beds and exacerbate clinician shortages. Deploying digital health platforms that continuously monitor patients and use AI to extract clinical insights can significantly help stretch these limited resources.
In some cases, patients who were believed to require hospital admission can be “admitted” to their home while clinicians remotely manage their care, freeing up hospital beds for the sickest individuals in need of such care. Providers then deliver commensurate quality of care in a lower cost environment, and patients recover or manage their condition in the comfort of a familiar environment. In other words, the hospital comes to the patient.
Enhancing hospital-at-home options enables health systems to deliver the right care from the right clinician to the right patient at the right time. The expanded and innovative virtual care payment models CMS implemented so hospitals can count on receiving reimbursement for this approach further support its viability.
3. Continuous RPM and AI analytics help prevent avoidable, costly readmissions.
Unnecessary and avoidable readmissions continue to be a costly challenge for hospitals. For example, readmission rates are often as high as 25 percent for patients living with heart failure and COPD. The ability to prevent just a handful of those readmissions provides significant savings.
Continuous RPM combined with AI to extract insights and provide context around the physiological data captured delivers a more complete picture of the patient. This, in turn, supports clinicians’ ability to intervene in a timely manner to prevent readmissions. To cite just one example, a clinician may need to understand whether a patient’s heart rate spiked because she just ran up the stairs or because her condition is deteriorating. On-demand access to near real-time data can guide decision-making and appropriate treatment.
4. Disease- and device-agnostic RPM plus AI analytics provide valuable health insights.
Wearable sensors are becoming increasingly commonplace, with the global wearable medical devices market poised to expand at a CAGR of 26.8 percent from 2021 to 2028, according to Grand View Research.As consumers grow more comfortable wearing non-intrusive devices as part of their daily routine, it has become easier to monitor a broad range of vital signs and physiological activity important to understanding wellness and illness.
But data alone is often insufficient for health management – the “magic” comes from applying AI-based analytics. Disease and device-agnostic machine learning based platforms can extract personalized clinical insights from volumes of data and trending, zeroing in on the specific health needs of each individual. Armed with this information, clinicians can partner with patients to create, implement, and monitor health management plans tailored to patients’ unique requirements and goals.
5. Digital health technology supports better medication dosing and adherence.
Poor medication adherence costs our health system billions of dollars each year. Digital health platforms using AI may improve medication adherence through increasing the touchpoints with patients to help them more easily stay on track with their medication regimen.
But even more exciting is the opportunity for life sciences companies and clinicians to collaborate with technology companies to help provide the information needed for clinicians to titrate medications according to specific patient needs. For many medications, adjusting the drug to the optimal dose requires multiple patient visits. This is burdensome for both patient and clinician and delays optimal treatment. Remote monitoring of the patient’s physiological response to the current dose allows the clinician to track key vital signs that may make it safe and effective to adjust medication doses while the patient stays home. This home-based approach to medication management reduces the hurdles to optimal dosing for myriad diseases.
Digital technologies are increasingly redefining healthcare in multiple ways. They help patients take the right medications in the right dosages at the right time and enable clinicians to identify signs of decompensation and other clinical risk factors so they can proactively intervene to improve outcomes. They also support providers seeking cost-efficient ways to optimize finite healthcare resources. All of this bodes well for exciting opportunities for everyone to live their healthiest lives possible.
Gary Manning is senior vice president and general manager, healthcare, physIQ.