Technology has dramatically altered the way we do almost everything in our daily lives. The impact of technological innovation is undeniable.
Health care administration has been slower to recognize the potential of technology and take advantage of the benefits of these innovations. But that tide is shifting. Payers, providers, employers, and patients all recognize the benefits that technology can offer. Many also see it as an essential tool to curb rising health care costs while maintaining or improving quality and patient outcomes.
For more than a century, health care in the U.S. looked more or less the same. Patients would seek care in person at a clinic or hospital. Providers would diagnose the patient’s condition, create a treatment plan, and administer those treatments in person.
Historically, most doctors kept written notes (a medical record) at their facilities and rarely shared that information with other providers. Those notes provided a snapshot of a person’s health at one point in time. But they failed to capture the breadth of a person’s medical experience and needs. This type of manual record keeping also risked leaving patients vulnerable to medical errors if a provider had incomplete or inaccurate information.
Fortunately, many health care players are already moving away from this model. Software developers and technology innovators are helping providers, payers, and patients find better ways to deliver and access care.
These tools are forging a new path toward increased engagement and reduced costs. They offer insights into patient care and health, so doctors can proactively address concerns. And they make it easier to share information across providers and facilities for more comprehensive care.
Until recently, most people thought of a doctor’s visit as a visit that should take place in person at a hospital or clinic. But virtual visits are making it easier for everyone to access the care they need. Seeing a doctor no longer requires a long trip to a health care facility, only to have to find parking and then wait some more to be seen.
Virtual care is not new. The first virtual visit was more than 60 years ago, when the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute and Norfolk State Hospital established a closed-circuit television link for consultations.
Widespread use of this promising technology didn’t happen for several decades. In 2019, only 11% of U.S. consumers reported having ever used virtual health services. But when the COVID-19 pandemic created a reason for people to stay out of doctors’ offices, that usage skyrocketed. Now, 46% report using virtual health services instead of going to a doctor in person.
The pandemic caught everyone by surprise, but health care providers and patients were quickly able to adapt to a virtual care world. Most were surprised by how much could be accomplished with virtual access to care. Some experts estimate that the U.S. virtual health industry could reach $250 billion in revenue in the future (up from $3 billion in 2019). Other studies show that virtual health is already reducing downstream utilization and has the potential to save the health care system a lot of money when deployed correctly.
Another promising development in health care technology is the use of remote patient monitoring (RPM) tools. These devices are becoming more and more common.
RPM tools range from simple trackers that record steps or other physical activity, to more advanced devices that monitor glucose levels in people with diabetes. Some devices are used primarily by individuals to monitor health. Others are critical for care teams to better understand what’s happening with patients when they are not in the doctor’s office. By 2024, an estimated 30 million people will be using one or more RPM tools.
These devices also increase care quality and outcomes for patients in rural areas and those who have trouble getting to a doctor’s office in person. For example, a patient with diabetes living several hours away from a hospital can use RPM devices to track their glucose levels between annual appointments with a doctor. If their glucose levels spike, the doctor’s office gets an alert and can reach out by phone or schedule a virtual visit. Providers may be able to simply adjust medications or advise dietary changes that normalize glucose levels. This proactive management can keep the patient with diabetes out of the emergency room.
RPM tools also give patients more data about their own health. That information can keep a person engaged in their care, which increases compliance with important preventive health measures like regular provider visits and medication adherence.
But data alone doesn’t solve problems. Applying analytics can look for patterns, offer insights into patient health, and improve outcomes.
Health care is a rapidly changing field. At times, it can seem a little overwhelming to everyone — including patients, payers, and providers. But technology holds great promise for improving care outcomes and reducing costs.
At Highmark Inc., we know that technology is the future of care. We’re invested in making the most of the tools we have and seeking out new tools to continue improving care in the future.
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