Waqaas Al-Siddiq, Founder and CEO – Biotricity
The patient-consumer is emerging in the wake of increased out-of-pocket patient spending, declining health outcomes, and the evolving landscape of digital health initiatives. Patients are transforming from the uninformed seeking necessary care into savvy consumers of healthcare services. As a result, patients have started taking control of their spending habits by demanding cost and service transparency as well as improved outcomes and preventative strategies. As agentive stakeholders in their own care, patients are actively seeking data-driven feedback that tracks how their lifestyle choices and activities impact their health. This is evidenced by the lifestyle wearables boom. The arising conundrum is that the patient-consumer is seeking access to, and engagement with, personalized, affordable, and effective care—and yet patient engagement remains an elusive goal for healthcare, with non-adherence a close second. Digital health initiatives that are striving to align the patient-consumer’s demands and the healthcare industry’s need for holistic views, deeper clinical insights, and security are turning to Big Data.
The term “Big Data” is a common buzzword, but it’s important to recognize just how big and powerful that data really is. In healthcare alone, there is an onslaught of incoming medical data derived from clinical trials, scientific studies, and patient-specific health information from hospital records and long-term monitoring devices. This makes it extremely difficult for doctors and medical researchers to keep up with even a fraction of the available data. New digital health initiatives, like the Severity-based Stroke Triage Algorithm that helps emergency medical services determine what treatment a stroke patient requires, can help quantify that Big Data and leverage it effectively. Initiatives that can properly leverage data and analytics could unite both the patient-consumer and healthcare providers’ goals by enabling an efficient system of providing care that promotes engagement, adherence, cost reduction, and improved outcomes.
The Patient-Consumer Conundrum
The emergence of the patient-consumer creates a conundrum. The patient-consumer is taking advantage of unprecedented access to information while patient engagement remains a challenge for healthcare systems. Patient-consumers are asking for a better care experience, more feedback and personalization, and improved outcomes and prevention strategies. Since the patient-consumer decides where healthcare dollars are spent, it cannot go ignored that they are demanding more sophisticated, convenient, transparent, affordable and personalized healthcare. Simultaneously, the government is under pressure to provide sustainable care in the face of significant increases in healthcare costs. The burden is therefore put onto healthcare providers to simultaneously meet government incentive requirements, improve outcomes, and maintain a sustainable business. This is pushing providers to digital health solutions from the private sector that leverage Big Data and to create products designed for the patient-consumer.
Solutions for the patient-consumer are already beginning to emerge. For instance, when a patient is faced with a serious health diagnosis, like cancer or cardiovascular disease, they can actively seek out healthcare information, i.e. specialists, treatment options, and lifestyle changes. WebMD has partnered with Amazon’s artificial intelligence (AI) device Alexa to provide medical advice based on algorithms that have access to the myriad forms of health data.
Digital health initiatives like WebMD/Alexa collect a massive amount of data through these patient searches. This Big Data can be applied to predict patterns in population health. This kind of analysis has already been used to analyze social media data in order to pinpoint tweets about food poisoning and then use geotagging to trace the occurrences to their source. Digital health initiatives that give the patient-consumer control, or that exert a kind of intelligent protection over population health, are now driving innovations that use AI and Big Data to benefit people before they become patients, and to help providers better serve them. For healthcare providers, this means sifting through a myriad of solutions, identifying the ones that drive improvement in outcomes and engagement, and integrating them into their care workflows.
The importance of Big Data
Properly leveraging existing patient health data, new research, and data collected from sources like IoT-enabled wearable devices could be the solution that aligns patient and provider priorities. Data collection, aggregation, and analysis elucidate discovering patterns, which are the key to a preventative, personalized healthcare model. Foreknowledge about both population and individual health patterns can lead to the development of prevention tactics, and can help reduce costs before they are incurred. Chronically ill patients form a segment that accounts for 86 percent of healthcare spending in the US and are a notable example of where Big Data analytics can be leveraged to help patients and physicians manage conditions remotely, affordably, and in a more personalized way.
Perhaps the most exciting branch of digital health initiatives that can take advantage of Big Data are those that move the point of care from the hospital to the home. Remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices will accelerate the value of Big Data by collecting and aggregating a vast amount of patient-specific health data into the cloud. They will allow physicians and patients to monitor chronic conditions, like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, from a distance. Combining RPM data with existing patient health records and research will allow for predictions, personalized care regimens, and preventative measures to be taken to better treat chronic conditions and prevent against the onset of co-morbid conditions. By leveraging Big Data, innovative RPM devices can lighten the burden of patients in care facilities and fulfill the patient-consumer’s desire to engage with their own health. AT&T and Inuit Health have teamed up to cut hospital re-admissions by creating an RPM solution that sends patient biometric data from personal health devices like weight scales and blood pressure gauges into the Cloud, for physician access. Patients with acute conditions such as concussions, ear infections, or who are post-operative can also benefit from solutions that combine Big Data and RPM as they can help overcome their health hurdles without hospital visits.
Digital health tools that collect, compile, and analyze Big Data can also be used to improve the quality of communication between the patient and their physician—in effect, improving the customer experience. Devices or even applications can use patient-specific data to create prompts that remind patients to adhere to medications or lifestyle regimens through personalized messaging. This targeted and relevant communication has already been shown to improve engagement and reduce the health risks associated with non-adherence and missed follow-up appointments. The development of RPM and related device solutions that draw on Big Data analytics can also help drive patient adoption and engagement through design. They may eventually incorporate elements of social interaction or gamification as a way of incentivizing patient adherence and collecting patient engagement data.
A Look into the Future of Healthcare
Today, digital health initiatives fall short of solving the patient-consumer conundrum, but they are shaping a digital, data filled healthcare landscape on which the future of healthcare will be built. Once established, Big Data can push healthcare towards a more preventative model by collecting and distributing data and identifying population and patient health risks. Data-driven solutions can improve healthcare institution workflows and provide important health insights that help facilitate triage, diagnosis, and treatment plan building. The true evolution of digital health relies on advances in artificial intelligence and deep learning. When a device is intelligent enough to consider a patient-consumer’s unique context such as habits, schedules, interests, etc., then it can truly leverage Big Data and offer individualized advice and feedback based on lifestyle, physical condition, and personal health goals.
Big Data and AI analytics are currently creating a context for population health that may push healthcare towards a preventative, value-based care system that elicits patient engagement. These first steps toward improved data analytics have already given new meaning to health and disease management by presenting a more personalized and customized way of treating each patient based on their personal medical needs. In the future, medication, tests, and treatments will be tailored to suit each patient’s genetic structure. As data analytics, AI, and device development improve, the ensuing cyclical process will only continue to reap positive results. More data collected will lead to improved health outcomes, and the patient-consumer will continue to demand better, more accurate, and personalized health management tools which will benefit and improve from usage data.
Enterprises that collect and analyze data, and effectively implement insights, can create the types of experiences that improve patient engagement, lead to patient retention and proactive care, and lower providers’ overhead costs. Amid the buzzwords and talk of the future of healthcare, it is important to remember the bottom line: the biggest beneficiaries of digital healthcare will be the patients who receive better treatment with improved outcomes, and those who avoid becoming patients at all.
About the Author:
Waqaas Al-Siddiq is Founder and CEO of Biotricity, a biometric remote monitoring solutions company. He is a serial entrepreneur, a former investment advisor and expert in wireless communication technology. He has vast experience through executive roles within start-ups, mid-sized companies, and non-profits. For more information visit https://www.biotricity.com