2019 Digital Health Trends Aim to Lessen Health System Barriers

Consumerism is one of the greatest driving forces behind innovation. We live in a world where markets focus on the needs and wants of consumers, and the health system does not deviate from this trend. To meet the demands of rising health-related costs and complexity, for patients and health administrations, operational changes have started taking place.

Technological advances are the key to instigating operational shifts in the healthcare marketplace. In this piece, we will explore a few overarching barriers within healthcare, and how emerging innovations aim to circumvent barriers for individual patients and the entire health system.

1. Building engaging relationships

Relationships are an integral part of the health system. While the doctor-patient relationship is very important and key to effective health care, it is not the only relationship that matters. There are many points of contact in the health system where communication falls short due to ineffective engagement. Points of contact in healthcare are normally between:

  1. Physician and Patient
  2. Administrative staff and Patient
  3. Physicians
  4. Physician and Caregivers/family
  5. Physician and Allied health professionals 

Digital health tools can be used to facilitate communication, enhance engagement and bolster relationships. They are about reinforcing and improving the relationship within healthcare, particularly between patient and healthcare providers. Three-quarters of physicians have linked improved patient engagement with digital patient engagement tools, and the majority of physicians had a form of digital education tool in their clinics [1].

Engagement cannot be measured by the initial interaction to a digital tool. If engagement is to be effective, it has to be sustainable. To ensure sustainability, digital tools aim to also impact methods that are of concern for the health system: automation, workflow integration, and provision of actionable data. In essence, consumers, both patients and health administrators, value experience, and have come to expect personalized, targeted approaches to address problems.

2. Data management

Patients have been and continue to receive care across multiple health sectors, from primary to acute care. Electronic health records (EHR) tools have been put in place to facilitate the collection of data in healthcare settings. Unfortunately, healthcare providers and organizations continue to utilize fragmented technologies, creating barriers towards collaboration and data sharing opportunities. These barriers are worsened if a patient utilizes both public and private healthcare resources. The information gathered at each interaction with the health system needs to be managed and stored in a manner that can be utilized in the future. To date, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have made incredible impacts on the practice of digital healthcare. In 2019, further advances in the move toward seamless care are expected.

As more data feeds into health systems, further advances need to take place to ensure efficient care and the ability to implement solutions are achieved. Standardized software implemented in healthcare settings must provide the technological foundations for data sharing — extending the functionality of EHRs and other technologies that support connected care. Interoperability is a major component in digital health innovation: as health data is received from multiple sectors, secure data exchange becomes imperative in providing continuity of care. With interoperability, data can be aggregated across multiple providers and settings. Applications that target hospitals and medical clinics will include patient monitoring and transcribing notes for EHRs. Lastly, complete access to EHRs for patients and providers is an essential step in the push toward providing a holistic picture of a patient’s health profile to themselves and any care provider resulting in enabled targeted health outcome.

3. Meeting the demands of integrated care

Chronic diseases, like heart disease, cancer, stroke, or diabetes, are the leading cause of death and disability in America. 60% of Americans have at least one chronic disease, accounting to over 80% of hospital admissions [2]. These patients and their care need to be managed. Management of chronic illness is one of the key areas of growth in 2019, along with behavioral health and specialty medicine. These needs range from annual wellness exams to the opioid crisis, where healthcare providers are at the forefront to addressing these demands.

Platforms and applications that are interoperable with EHR systems will be especially valuable to providers across all health sectors, given the increase in insight and communication telehealth will provide about a specific patient. With limited resources in the health system, from financial constraints to continued demands of regulatory compliance and accreditation, enhanced clinical efficiency via digital health tools will make it easier for healthcare providers to provide care. Integration of such platforms provides physicians with the ability to monitor vital signs and assess reactions to treatments without being physically present while providing real-time diagnosis and intervention without time-consuming office visits.  

Through the provision of clinical care at a distance, increasing accessibility and eliminating potential delays in care has and will give patients greater control, thus enhancing satisfaction and overall engagement.

Digital health now has successfully expanded to include support for a wide range of conditions across the spectrum of care, from behavioral health to cancer, heart conditions, and other complex care conditions. As health systems increase their focus on value-based care and population health, these tools will provide convenient and lower-cost opportunities to access care.