Dr. Bob Monteverdi is the Global Healthcare Solutions Leader for Lenovo Health
The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating digital innovations in healthcare delivery that have been moving at a slow, but steady pace for decades. Hospital healthcare use to be primarily analog and standardized – a physical experience centered on a health system’s actions. Now, providing care is becoming more digital and personal where empowered and informed patient-consumers can do more to impact their care. How did we get here, what does it mean, and what’s next?
From first-hand experience, I understand that hospital administrators and executives are very reluctant and slow to change. ‘Why do we have to change the way we do things?’ ‘Why would I ever pay for this stuff?’ These were often the remarks I heard from colleagues for decades while hospital costs in America continued to increase and the health of Americans declined. 2020 has made two things clear: something must change, and that change needs to be big.
The Chronic Issue
Take chronic conditions, which dominate healthcare, as the leading example. Six out of 10 US adults have at least one chronic condition and 75% of the US $3.5 trillion in annual healthcare spending is attributed to the management of chronic conditions.
America is not unique in facing the dilemma of rising costs and declining health due to chronic conditions. The UN estimates 41 million people worldwide die prematurely every year from preventable chronic illnesses. Between 2000 and 2017, health spending in real terms grew by 3.9% a year worldwide while the global economy only grew 3% a year.
Improving the same inputs, i.e. more money, more physicians and nurses, and better medicines – is simply not enough to balance the equation. That approach has been tried for decades and has proven unsuccessful. We cannot train physicians and nurses, develop new therapies, or increase budgets fast enough. We must change the inputs and stop trying to force analog solutions in an increasingly digital world. The integration of technology has been staring us in the face for a long time and we must do things differently so we can achieve a lot more by using fewer hospital resources.
With that being said, the healthcare industry and policymakers are responding. For example, the US Chronic Care Act of 2017 expanded Medicare reimbursement for remote solutions for chronic care management. This provided cohesive coverage for patients that needed it and supported the integration of technology on a larger scale, propelling the necessary momentum needed for change.
COVID – 19: A digital catalyst
While the forces that shape healthcare were steering in the right direction and gaining speed, the global health crisis is an even greater catalyst for change. As a result, the industry-wide preference for incrementalism will hopefully come to an end and move more toward truly transformative change.
Why? Not because hospital administrators and physicians had a collective epiphany that virtual health solutions like e-visits and remote patient monitoring are game-changers. Rather, because the current circumstance is forcing health systems to do more remote engagement with patients and patients have more power than ever before.
Before the pandemic, very few patients had experienced an “e-visit” with their physician or understood that something like that was even an option. As the world continues to evolve and younger more digitally native patients begin managing their own healthcare, it is hard to imagine “e-visits” not being a preference. Patient expectations are rightfully adjusting with the times and it’s important that medical professionals along with the systems they work in adapt too. If the medical industry doesn’t continue to leverage new innovative technology in their practices, the very people they’ve devoted their careers to heal will suffer the most.
Benefits of Virtual Care Solutions
The benefits of virtual care solutions are manifold, but the largest is the ability to positively modify patient behavior. Most chronic disease patients do not adhere to their doctor’s treatment plan, with fifty percent of patients not following their prescribed treatment plan, and with the biggest drop-off occurring in the first month.
Hospital administrators cannot prescribe habits, and that is often why patients fail to follow their orders. However, a virtual care solution— a PC, phone or tablet with biometric devices and a digital assistant — can engage patients daily to support treatment plans and report data back to the primary care team. According to a recent study by KLAS research, remote patient monitoring to track vitals between office visits to adjust medications help avoid ER visits and hospital readmissions.
A digital solution like this can also help include a patient’s family members and impact social determinants of health (SDoH). ‘Dad I see your glucose levels are a bit high and you haven’t exercised much this month. What can we do about that to help you?’ Such a platform, supported with physician care, helps build healthy habits, reduce adverse events, and extend life.
Because it can improve patient behavior and delivers better outcomes, virtual care solutions help enable value-based healthcare, a healthcare delivery model in which providers, including hospitals and physicians, are paid based on patient health outcomes. With value-based care models, providers are rewarded for helping patients improve their health, reduce the impact of chronic disease, and live healthier lives.
Patient-consumers wear smartwatches to monitor their health and are increasingly accustomed to e-visits with care providers. How long will they wait for their hospital healthcare teams to put these connections together and start offering smarter solutions? Provider behavior must follow patient-consumer behavior. Health systems and physicians that are slow to adopt could find themselves quickly falling behind in the healthcare marketplace in the years to come.