With much of our world changing rapidly due to the epidemic and the rise of technological advances, we expect that the future of digital health will shift. With the additional strain on our healthcare system and the increase in inflation/demand, the need for flexibility and adaptation situations is pertinent to the structural integrity of healthcare systems. To some extent, we can predict what will occur in the digital health sector and work to be prepared for changes.
Changing methods of care
With the impact of COVID, we have seen how healthcare can shift into a more digital world. We see telehealth appointments and more communication in applications or portals than ever before. Similarly, many people avoided getting the care that they needed, creating a backlog of patient needs and chronic conditions. We can expect to see these trends continue, with emerging technologies for digital care, and therefore more purchasing from healthcare systems. However, this creates a challenge to the most effective care and can create some boundaries for those who need face-to-face interactions.
Digital care can certainly decrease costs in the healthcare industry by streamlining communication between patients and providers. This can decrease the staff needed to set an appointment, wait times, and help with time management for physicians. Physicians are beginning to see how digital tools can help them, with 93% of them seeing an advantage in patient care. 30% of physicians are using remote monitoring devices, which is a large increase from 2016 at 12%. So, what does this boil down to?
Within the healthcare industry, we can see more developments and purchases with telehealth, both because it is convenient, and patient preferred. It can assist with streamlining care and data monitoring. This can also impact providers by changing how they are reimbursed for services.
The digital supply chain
A digital supply chain allows healthcare entities to have more predictability within the industry and among patients. A digital supply chain can provide real-time data on what will be needed and how much, impacting how purchasing decisions can be made. As a recent example, it can monitor and predict how much medical equipment may be needed, like how much personal protective equipment should be ordered in alignment with recent trends or illnesses. While we cannot always predict specifics, it helps healthcare professionals make educated decisions on purchasing products, including digital tools.
This same digital supply chain can help healthcare industries model what-if scenarios, including shifting providers of a certain product. For instance, they can ask the algorithm to calculate what would happen if a major provider of a product was dropped and how that would impact demand. This can be good for the digital health field, especially with blossoming new products that can increase efficiency. It can also help the industry become prepared for many situations. With traditional supply chains, there is often not integration between departments or technologies. Digital supply chains can predict needs and efficiencies while implementing several information sources. More integrated networks within the digital supply chain will likely grow, as data supports that it both increases revenue and customer service while reducing overall costs.
Value-based care is a cost-incentive-based delivery framework to increase the quality of care provided to patients. Medicare Advantage is a value-based care program. This service is much different from a fee-for-service model, which compensates providers or healthcare professionals per service, such as an office visit or procedure. Approximately 31% of estimated 2022 spending will be in value-based care. This can be a challenging model since it encourages providers to offer more services or tests. Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare system has begun to move away from this model and towards value-based care, a trend we can continue to expect.
In terms of digital health, value-based systems are looking for health outcomes in their patients. These are often determined by quality metrics. Examples of metrics can include:
- Timeliness of services, such as appointments or long wait times
- Prevention of hospitalizations with effective treatments
- Coordination of care
- Equitability and providing care among multiple demographics and economic status
To track these metrics, digital health tools are being used and advancing to more sophisticated monitoring methods. Risk scores are calculated to provide an overall picture of each patient’s health and their potential needs. Calculations, scores, and metrics are usually integrated into each healthcare provider’s electronic medical record or within other applications or digital tools. With remote patient monitoring (RPM), providers can be directly connected with their patients and view blood pressure monitor results, calories consumed, and other metrics that smartwatches can capture. RPM use cases are fully reimbursable, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid are expanding care access to these billing codes.
The future of digital healthcare provides us with endless opportunities for more effective, convenient, and cost-efficient care. Some of the technologies that we will see being implemented and purchased across healthcare systems include virtual reality, neurotechnology, artificial intelligence, health wearables, and telehealth. We know that as the market develops new and sophisticated technologies these will be purchased by healthcare systems nationwide. Virtual reality is becoming a key method to not only train new physicians or nurses but also is being found to help with psychological illnesses and pain management. Neurotechnology is developing more advanced methods of imaging, allowing us to create more customized treatments. Telemedicine and wearables have been an explosive new development, allowing patients to take more control over their health and communicate easier than ever with their providers.