Technology Innovations: Empowering the Patient

Pharmacy Times Oncology Edition, August 2015, Volume 2, Issue 3

Health care is speeding toward a fast-paced future rooted in technology, design, and human behavior.

With the help of technology, patients are playing a more active role in their own care.

Health care is speeding toward a fast-paced future rooted in technology, design, and human behavior. As vocal consumers navigate complex health systems with smartphones in hand and take on more responsibility for their health and care, forward-thinking innovation is no longer a “nice-to-have,” it is a necessity. This article highlights disruptive technologies that empower the consumer. These same technologies challenge care teams to keep pace by enabling them to operate more effectively and efficiently.

People are attempting to engage with their health care in remarkable ways, seeking robust, personalized information in decision tools and health aids, as evidenced by a growing wearables market. Consumers are being told to do a better job of taking care of their health while bearing additional costs.

With personal accountability, however, comes a rising demand for access and convenience; consumers want to be met where they are and on their own terms. This translates to virtual doctor and care team visits via telemedicine and appointments that do not require them to miss work, school, or other commitments. In addition, people want to hold and own their health data, including information they collect, process, and store about their bodies and health.

Visionary entrepreneurs and technologists from diverse consumer industry segments are joining health care providers to anticipate consumer needs and to act on opportunities to improve the industry. Virtual partnerships, responsive and convenient to consumers, are emerging as the new normal. Pharmacies, consumer-centric in their core design and patient access, could be the gateway to a new health and wellness market.

The tools being created today reflect a movement toward virtual-care solutions and consumer-managed health data, with patients generating, collecting, and maintaining their own vitals, medication histories, and even diagnostic testing. Below, we will explore some of the latest innovations in this new age of smarter care.

Better

Fast and furious changes across the health care landscape have produced an information overload for consumers: what does and what possibly may apply to their needs? Too many options and not enough time to sort through the dense jargon and online portals can lead to frustration. Enter Better.

Palo Alto, California-based Better provides consumers with their own personal health assistant (PHA) to help navigate care. Some of the tasks tackled by the PHA include locating the nearest urgent care center, arranging for prescription delivery, and helping to locate medical records and coordinate doctor’s appointments. The PHA will also discuss medical bills with a health care provider, talk to an insurer, or set up an online conversation with a nutritionist. The monthly cost is $19.99 for an individual and $49.99 for a family. The Better platform has had the Mayo Clinic as a launch partner since it was introduced last year—that means 24/7 access to the Mayo Clinic Nurse Line.

With this innovative strategy of lending consumers a personal navigator who is dedicated to their ongoing success through a mobile technology platform, the issue of information overload gets funneled into "done-for-you" situations along with delivery of personalized health information.

TelaDoc

“For the vast majority of Americans, being able to talk to a doctor in an hour is next to impossible,” Michael Gorton, founder of TelaDoc.1 Gorton hit a note that resonates with consumers: a desire for convenience. Doctor visits by telephone or online video chat started more than a decade ago, but have been few and far between.

Since 2002, TelaDoc—the first and the largest telemedicine provider—has made steady progress toward mainstream adoption with 24/7 access to US board-certified practitioners in internal medicine, pediatrics, and family practice. The network is broad, so the telemedicine practitioner could be local or could be electronically prescribing medications from across the country. Either way, TelaDoc’s policies limit its doctors to writing prescriptions for medication that delivers “direct medicinal value,” such as antibiotics and antihistamines.

The largest consulting firms, including Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers, are forecasting that video doctor visits via smartphones will soon become the norm. Apps already available in some cities allow consumers to request a house call from a doctor for issues that would otherwise result in an emergency department visit.2

Home Health Hacking

The home health landscape is exploding with new technologies designed or reinvented by consumers, who are often frustrated caregivers. Recent advances in the uses of sensor technology and data capture have created previously unthinkable opportunities for consumers to conduct their own “home health hacks.” They are living the adage that “Innovation is often born of necessity” by altering traditional medical devices that lack functions they want. Check out the home health care hacks blog posts by Susannah Fox, the new chief technology officer for the Department of Health and Human Services, at http://susannahfox.com/tag/home-health-care-hacks/.

One product created through the consumer do-it-yourself movement is the Scanadu Scout, which allows consumers to easily check their own vital signs (eg, blood pressure, heart rate, temperature) by scanning with a palm-size sensor and then storing and tracking the data. Consumers are testing investigational models of the device now.

Technology that gives consumers insight into their health is expected to become part of the mainstream, similar to what we have seen with wearable fitness and activity-tracking devices. PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute looked at the trend for its “Top Health Industry Issues of 2015” report3 and found clinicians may be even more ready to incorporate high-tech personal medical kits than eager consumers.

Nearly half of physicians surveyed said they would use data from a home urinalysis device to prescribe medications or decide if a patient needed to be seen, and 20% of consumers said they were ready to rely on a home device. One-fifth of physicians said they are already prescribing mobile apps for nutrition, weight management, and physical-activity monitoring and reporting, and 90% said patient devices will be important to their practices over the next 5 years.3 The FDA cleared 24 digital health devices in 2014, including a biosensor system from Vital Connect that supports remote monitoring of vital signs. When the patient puts on the device, data including heart rate, skin temperature, respiratory rate, and more are streamed to connect the patient and care provider.

Ten finalist teams are competing in the $10-million Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize competition to deliver a portable, wireless, handheld device that monitors and diagnoses health conditions. That is significant money focused on radical innovation to give consumers real choices in their health care.

Honor

As American age—10,000 turn 65 years of age each day—the role of the caregiver in families and care organizations around the country is rapidly expanding. San Francisco-based start-up Honor provides local home health aides to aging adults whose adult children are juggling work and their own families, and often live across the country.

Honor is set apart by an overlay of technology that includes online scheduling and a mobile app for monitoring interactions between the parent and the home health aide. For example, a son can receive an alert notifying him that his mother’s caregiver aide arrived on time, picked up her prescriptions, and helped her remember when and how to take her medications. Rates for Honor start at $25 to $30 an hour and include monitoring by the company to ensure the aides are interacting with the patient, preparing meals, or doing whatever is required, not using the time for personal phone calls or social media.

We are on the threshold of a new era for pharmacy in which connected, cost-conscious, and engaged consumers will hold some version of their own data in the palms of their hands—and they will want their pharmacist to consider that information as they make health choices. Passive monitoring and early intervention to address lifestyle illnesses at the lowest cost is the emerging formula.

Global is the new local. The patient across the counter may have been treated by an online clinician, just logged off a telemedicine consult via Skype, or arrived at the pharmacy after chatting with an online PHA. Regardless, today’s patients will be consumers first—armed with the latest data, expecting a no-hassle experience, and hoping to be delighted.

As virtual care unlocks geography and smartphones provides 24/7 access, what are the implications for pharmacies? Consulting firm Oliver Wyman’s 2014 report “The Patient-to-Consumer Revolution”4 suggests a future dominated by large health and wellness companies that transcend geography to merge smart care teams, telehealth, passive monitoring, retail pharmacy, and big data. Scenarios suggested in the report depict retail pharmacists happy with booming consumer traffic and clinics with access to physicians, nurses, telemedicine kiosks, and health programs for nutrition and weight management. In the future, Oliver Wyman asks, why not wrap a private payer around the partnership to drop costs below the usual copay and include a personalized health dashboard?

We already know that access to complete patient data on hospitalizations, prescriptions, and treatment plans allows pharmacists to fully participate in the medication management that is integral to patient care. The challenge to pharmacies is to be constantly mindful of how to connect, partner, and engage as part of the overall care team in order to deliver immediate value to patients.

Tom Rhoads is CEO of HAP Innovations, a consumer health care technology company that helps people live healthy and independent lives with products and services that simplify medication management and connect patients, care teams, and caregivers. Rhoads was previously CEO of Parata Systems, a leading provider of pharmacy technology solutions. His earlier industry experience includes Baxter Healthcare and Cardinal Health Corporation. Tom is a graduate of Duke University and earned his MBA from The Citadel. He is a member of the North Carolina Technology Association and the Chief Marketing Officer Council. He serves on the Pharmacy Times Advisory Board and is a member of the Young Presidents Organization, serving on the YPO Southern 7 Host Committee.

References

  • McWilliam D. Telephone doctors worry medical industry. USA Today. December 3, 2005.
  • eVisits: the 21st Century housecall. Deloitte website. www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/Technology-Media-Telecommunications/gx-tmt-2014prediction-evisits.pdf. Published 2014
  • Health Research Institute. Top health industry issues of 2015: outlines of a market emerge. PricewaterhouseCoopers website. www.pwc.com/en_US/us/health-industries/top-health-industry-issues/assets/pwc-hri-top-healthcare-issues-2015.pdf. December 2014.
  • Main T, Slywotzky A. The patient-to-consumer revolution: how high tech, transparent marketplaces, and consumer power are transforming U.S. healthcare. Oliver Wyman website. www.oliverwyman.com/content/dam/oliver-wyman/global/en/images/insights/health-life-sciences/2014/October/The-Patient-To-Consumer-Revolution.pdf. Published 2014.