With the initial era of EHR and patient portal adoption firmly in the industry’s rearview and other emerging digital technologies at various points along the maturity bell curve — telemedicine, for example, is highly mature, while artificial intelligence and machine learning still need a little more time to bake — it’s a good moment to take stock of the technologies that could help providers now or in the near future.
A few years ago, Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos was the most talked-about healthcare tech — until it all came crashing down under the swirl of fraud. The story of Theranos offers important lessons for those attempting to examine what is real when it comes to emerging technologies in healthcare.
With that in mind, here are five emerging digital healthcare tech solutions that are already — or on the cusp of — providing real value to doctors and medical practices.
With the preponderance of basic fitness trackers — devices that measure physical activity like steps or heart-rate, more advanced devices like the Apple Watch, and now devices that can track sleep patterns — wearables are finally reaching their potential to give providers a more complete picture of a patient’s health trends.
But patient-generated data doesn’t just come from wearables; in fact, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Bluetooth scales track weight and body fat percentage, mobile apps track dietary patterns or mental health issues, other devices can help track blood sugar levels for diabetics or blood pressure, for example.
Breakthroughs in tiny biometric sensors that can be woven into fabrics and other unnoticeable places have provided accurate patient data for clinical trials, remote patient monitoring in hospitals and in homes, all of which can be integrated into most medical record systems.
What does it all mean? Pretty soon, providers won’t have to rely on patient memory to get a 360-degree picture of a patient’s true health.
Healthcare tech will never replace the immediate relationship between a doctor and their patients. Nor should it. Instead, healthcare tech solutions should augment those relationships by making them stronger, thereby reducing the friction that comes between a doctor and patient.
Telemedicine is one such example, and care management software that takes advantage of modern mobile technology and patient-generated data is another promising example. Care management solutions give patients access to their entire care team through secure text messaging, make it easy to schedule appointments, track patient health factors, and follow designated care plans given to them by providers. It’s the one place for patients to manage their care and coordinate it with their care team.
With reimbursements shifting toward value and outcomes, and care being delivered by teams of providers instead of individual doctors, care management technology that helps coordinate those teams and deliver better patient outcomes finds itself on the verge of doing what the patient portal and EHR haven’t really done a great job of to date.
A high level of independent practices continue to be acquired by or partner with larger health systems. For practices that want to stay independent, there is a need to promote and grow their practice by improving the patient experience and streamlining front office tasks.
Healthcare practices have had to make technology investments around practice management, electronic health records, and patient portals, but many have not yet invested in technology that improves the way patients digitally interact with practices.
Practice growth software like PatientPop allows practices to attract new patients, manage online reputation, modernize the patient experience, and automate the front office. Using practice growth software, healthcare providers can get found online by more patients and give new and returning patients the ability to schedule appointments online. Practice growth software also sends automated appointment reminders to prevent no-shows and automated post-visit surveys to help create a virtuous cycle of practice improvement.
Back in January, Amazon made a vague announcement about partnering with Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan Chase on a new healthcare venture. Details of the companies’ plans are still non-existent, but anytime Amazon sends smoke signals into the air about disrupting specific industries, those industries should pay careful attention.
“The healthcare system is complex, and we enter into this challenge open-eyed about the degree of difficulty,” says Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “Hard as it might be, reducing healthcare’s burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families would be worth the effort.”
Ben Thompson, a technology strategist, posits that Amazon will likely create a marketplace that brings together all the disparate pieces of the healthcare system onto one platform where providers, prescription benefit managers, insurance companies, medical device suppliers, distributors, and pharmacies have to compete to serve businesses of all sizes and individuals. Add in some additional benefits for Prime subscribers, and Amazon eventually becomes the digital middleman for the entire healthcare ecosystem, Thompson argues.
Blockchain is the distributed database technology that underpins something like Bitcoin. In layman’s terms, blockchain is a way to securely record data transactions between two parties, like a payer and a provider organization, for example. Data is secured in the blockchain through cryptography and other means.
Blockchain won’t be a panacea for the U.S. healthcare industry, which is drowning in inefficient data silos (medical records across numerous EHRs, complex claims billing, clinical trials, and more) and beginning to suffer from more cyber attacks. But the hope is that blockchain could begin to address both of those problems by facilitating more secure and liquid patient data, along with things like pre-authorizations, billing, and payments to name just a few areas.
“Now is probably the right time in our history to take a fresh approach to data sharing in health care,” says John Halamka, chief information officer at Boston-based Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who helped create the MedRec blockchain system and believes it could be the answer to many of the common problems plaguing healthcare.
Although there’s no way to know which of these emerging healthcare tech solutions will become the next EHR, it’s clear that medical practices will continue to need a range of diverse digital solutions to not only help deliver better patient care but also transform their entire business and continue giving patients exactly what they need.
Want more content like this? Check out the PatientPop blog, which is updated regularly with information for healthcare providers.