Digital innovations continue to transform the healthcare landscape. While concerns surround certain aspects of technological advancement, such as data privacy and security, the digital trends we are seeing in the health field are bringing about much-needed, positive change.
Since 2020, I have been the chief product officer for Electronic Caregiver, a leading telehealth technology and services firm. Prior to that, I spent 12 years launching new products and services in the areas of digital health, biosensing, wearable computing, mixed reality and robotics for Intel and Amazon Web Services. I was also formerly a senior executive with Health Hero Network, Age Wave, Life Eldercare and Defta Ventures. At the start of my career, I was a geriatric care manager and served as a program manager with the City of Boston Area Agency on Aging.
I share this background to provide context as these experiences inform my perspective as I outline some of the hot trends in digital health innovation and how they are changing healthcare for the better.
TRENDS IN HEALTH TECHNOLOGY
One interesting trend, which will have a big impact on expanding access to healthcare, is the increased use of cellular technology as the default means of connectivity. For decades, providers have waited on “last mile” broadband connectivity (DSL, Wi-Fi, etc.). With the near ubiquitous deployment of 5G networks – and back-up via AT&T First Net and hyper-localized cell networks – patients in even the most remote areas of the nation can now gain access to digital health technologies. Easier access allows individuals to take charge of their health through tracking and monitoring apps and devices, preventing health decline and assisting in early detection of disease.
Another trend that is continually evolving and has received a lot of attention in recent years is telehealth. The COVID-19 pandemic placed telehealth in the spotlight and rapidly accelerated its adoption among patients and providers, primarily because the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) removed restrictions on direct reimbursement for telehealth services. With a payment mechanism in place, provider resistance to the use of telehealth eased and care at a distance became the norm. Patients expressed significant satisfaction with the services, while providers found value and efficiencies in this new model of care. As we moved into 2022, payers saw the benefits and extended payment reform, resulting in the emergence of a hybrid model of care.
Furthermore, there is a growing recognition that telehealth is more than virtual visits. While critically important during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality is that virtual visits are just one of many tools that can be deployed to provide personalized, impactful care plans, monitoring and interventions. Technology-facilitated remote patient monitoring, chronic care management, transitional care management, audio televisits, medication management, behavioral health interventions and annual wellness visits are examples of the broad types of telehealth being provided.
A third trend we are seeing is the use of mixed reality and gamification to increase patient engagement. This is extremely important, considering that half of all treatment plans fail due to non-adherence to care protocols or medication plans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), forgetting or neglecting to follow a doctor’s orders has been linked with poor clinical outcomes, and 50% of patients in the U.S. stop taking their prescribed medications within one year. Innovative uses of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), virtual caregivers and gamification can lead to higher degrees of engagement and, therefore, better adherence to care protocols.
Beyond the trends noted above, some specific examples of very positive innovations include the BioButton by BioIntelliSense, which provides continuous vital sign capture via an innovative wearable device. Then there is Addison Care, a virtual caregiver by Electronic Caregiver, which provides 24/7 engagement to reduce social isolation and improve care plan adherence. Lastly, there is Bravemind, a virtual reality application used by the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department to address issues associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.
LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE
Digital innovation is steering healthcare into a hybrid delivery model. As technology enables more remote care and hospital-at-home models of care, we may see a return of the home doctor visit with their black bag. However, unlike Dr. Welby, the medical drama TV series star of the early 1970s, the modern doctor’s bag may be filled with tools and technologies capable of home-based minimally invasive surgery, tricorder-type health monitoring, onsite replacement of pacemakers, hearing aids and exoskeletons.
Other things we may see in the future are virtual visits and second opinions provided by world-class experts anywhere in the world; smart medication dispensers and monitoring systems to prevent medication mismanagement and increase compliance; and smart-walkers and wheelchairs providing health monitoring, physical support, occupational therapy and fall prevention to users.
Above all, technology extends the reach of medical professionals and caregivers. In the next 10 years, the massive shortage of care providers will become a “code red.” Technology can help solve this problem, allowing one nurse, for example, to go from managing 40 patients to managing 400 patients. Overall, there is a more widespread understanding that the future will be a blend of facility-based care, care at a distance and ongoing health monitoring. Healthcare, at its core, is a people business. Well-designed and thoughtfully implemented digital health technologies complement and expand the reach of human caregivers.