Why the Digitization of Healthcare Should Give Us Hope

By John S. Kim

While politicians debate the best ways to make healthcare affordable and accessible to people across the country, consumers are driving substantive change in how they want to receive care. And companies are responding, recognizing consumers’ demands and their willingness to move away from outdated models that no longer work for their lifestyle or budget. This is creating new and often unexpected care environments. 

For perhaps the first time in history, non-traditional healthcare settings are being embraced by mainstream Americans, particularly if those options cost less and are more convenient and personal. Underscoring this point, a recent report noted that consumers are done playing a passive role, and the entire structure of care is changing. Per the PwC Health Research Institute:

“Now emerging in place of this siloed industry is a modular ecosystem that operates similarly to industries such as retail, technology and hospitality. This ecosystem, in which consumers can choose care according to their wants, needs and wallets, is far more accessible to newer players, which can tackle discrete parts of the system without having to control, own or understand the whole. This ecosystem is more dynamic, responsive to consumers and fertile for innovation—in other words, an ecosystem ripe for novel deals.” 

Let’s dive into how the system is changing to deliver modern care that truly benefits patients.

An Evolving Ecosystem

As Mary Meeker noted in her annual Internet Trends report, the digitization of healthcare is at the forefront of change. While video telemedicine has seen the sharpest increase in adoption in the last few years, there is far more to it. Modern companies such as Solv are working to reduce the time people have to wait to see a doctor. Others, like PillPack, make it easier to get needed medicines, simplifying people’s lives and helping them generally feel healthier through a consumer-centric approach. Even large technology companies like Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft are building capabilities that address health concerns. In these cases, Apple is using the digitization of healthcare through hardware to shift more and more control to the consumer and Amazon is bringing multiple parts of the healthcare value chain together to improve the care delivery experience. Google and Microsoft are both investing in data aggregation and AI based capabilities that can aid medical practitioners to diagnose healthcare conditions effectively. 

Feeling the pressure for change, some of the more traditional players even at the periphery are finding ways to provide greater services to consumers. This is why we are seeing some interesting deals take shape– CVS purchasing Aetna, Cigna acquiring Express Scripts, Albertsons and Rite Aid, and of course one of the most unexpected alliances of all– Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase. How exactly these pairings will serve consumers, beyond walk-in clinics and discounted prescriptions, remains to be seen, but there is a lot of room for innovation.

The opportunities are enormous as organizations seek to redefine the healthcare experience– from the tech companies that enable new forms of patient interaction and diagnoses, to healthcare institutions and providers who can reach more patients and assess patient cases faster with greater accuracy, to businesses that can provide their employees with new, best-in-class services as an added benefit. 

So what new technologies will move the digitization of care forward to have a positive impact on patients’ lives?

APIs: the Key to Faster Innovation

Organizations that wish to take part in the modern healthcare market must leverage the right set of technologies on the backend. The advent of APIs, whether for infrastructure, communication or data, is helping to alleviate many of the pains modern healthcare developers grapple with, enabling them to roll out richer, more context-aware products faster. For example, the Blue Button API helps patients gain access to their online records while the Human API enables doctors and patients to connect and share medical records or communicate with pharmacies in real time. The BetterDoctor API provides access to healthcare provider data, and TrueVault provides a backend platform as a service that delivers HIPAA compliant information storage for healthcare applications. This list is just beginning to take shape, but APIs designed for healthcare will power the future of patient wellness and health.

AI Poised to Open New Doors for Smarter Care

Aside from APIs, innovation in care is accelerating as artificial intelligence (AI) matures and can be applied in practical ways. Although pooling large amounts of patient data is complicated to say the least, today’s systems are moving closer to helping doctors make far more accurate diagnoses at lightning speed and at scale. Earlier this year, for example, a team of researchers from the U.S, and from China released a study that provided proof of concept for an AI-based system that could diagnose pediatric diseases. As AI is integrated into solutions, the most direct course of care can be delivered to patients from the start, eliminating stress on patients, reducing the need for excessive testing, significantly dropping costs and rapidly accelerating recovery periods. By analyzing millions of data points in seconds, providers can quickly identify treatments and the best protocols—and ultimately make better decisions. Additionally, researchers will leverage AI to make the big, new discoveries in the days to come that will save lives. AI will also help on the insurance side, speeding up the claims process so that payments are processed faster.

New Communication Modes Will Provide Better Interaction and Outcomes

Healthcare is in the midst of a transformation, shifting from reactive to proactive care. Where previously consumers sought health services only when feeling ill, data is now being captured passively via medical-grade wearables. Thanks to the technologies highlighted above, providers, nurses or physician’s assistants can reach out if they spot an anomaly that warrants checking out. Additionally, patients may have questions for which they want a quick answer without waiting for an appointment or call back, without having to take time off work to come into an office. New communications technologies make meaningful connections easy.

Real-time chat is now advanced enough to meet stringent privacy and security regulations in order to facilitate instant doctor-patient interaction in a digital equivalent of a clinic. Practices can embed chat technologies into their sites to foster practice-patient relationships and take care to another level. Additionally, private group chat capabilities can connect patients with others going through similar circumstances, such as cancer, to support one another and ask questions in a secure setting. These technologies can be built on top of a centralized customer data platform to map and orchestrate all patient data from multiple touchpoints in a single unified customer journey.

And this is just the beginning—I haven’t scratched the surface of how technology is evolving the healthcare landscape. Even as we gear up for some of the biggest, most contentious healthcare policy debates in modern times leading up to the 2020 elections, the brass tacks of real care, day-in and day-out are very exciting. Huge advances are taking place that keep the patient front-and-center while dropping costs. This should give us hope.

John S. Kim is CEO of SendBird.

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