Technology Advisor – The arrival of consumer-centric technology

Technology Advisor – The arrival of consumer-centric technology

April 25, 2016
Bipin Thomas
From the April 2016 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

By: Bipin Thomas

Consumer empowerment, a fixture in such industries as retail products, travel and banking, is taking shape in health care at last. But only because consumers finally have to get involved in their own care to head off things like higher insurance premiums and workplace penalties for poor health. Health care providers are headed into the community to track down consumers and help keep them well. Incentives embedded in Medicare programs to share savings from more efficient and effective care have spawned all manner of inventiveness to promote health and intervene early when a chronically sick person is in danger of getting much sicker.

This intersection of like motivations for consumers and caregivers is creating a remarkable opportunity for entrepreneurs to market digital products that people can stand on, strap on or wear to yield information valuable to their ongoing health. That same information is valuable to new health management cooperatives such as accountable care organizations, which will earn their income by keeping a defined population, say, members of a local health plan, as healthy as possible.

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Health consumerism has been anticipated ever since the Internet first stepped in front of the white coat — the longstanding embodiment of health care knowledge — to create alternatives to getting that information. But the forecast rise of consumerism failed to gain momentum until several forces came together. People with insurance became more involved with determining health care decisions once their decisions had an increased impact on their finances. High deductibles and other cost sharing increased consumer “skin in the game” and provided motivation to seek out advice on self-care.

Hospitals and physicians now have to be concerned about Medicare patient satisfaction surveys, publicized on a government web site and figuring into formulas for reimbursing them for their services. Incentives from value-measuring programs of Medicare and private insurers can be boiled down to this: keep people healthy or intervene early in failing health, get a bonus check. With the growing importance of consumer welfare and its tie to reimbursement, emerging collectives of health care providers need every advantage possible to track and monitor the health status of consumers more effectively and efficiently.

Presentations on wearable technology over the years usually started with the lead-in, “Imagine if …” Not anymore. Ralph Lauren is developing a stylish polo shirt that can measure calories burned, heart data, distance traveled and other health-related details. Other products such as the Apple Watch are providing personalized ways to collect data, get feedback and take action. The odds of consumers achieving good health — or at least better health than they would otherwise — increase with the use of such products as smart patches worn on the skin to gather vital signs continuously, with little or no need to train consumers to record and report data. Further lifting these technologies out of the realm of mere curiosities are advances in the analysis of large amounts of data for trends, warnings and suggestions regarding personal health.

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