Doctors and diagnostics on demand. Prescription-based apps. Artificial intelligence-based symptom checkers. Personalized digital interventions. Social robots to improve the patient experience. Augmented reality for patient education. These are just a few examples of how technology continues to enable healthcare consumerism, said Robin Farmanfarmaian, professional speaker, author, and entrepreneur who spoke at Medical Group Management Association’s (MGMA) annual conference held in Boston Sept 30 - Oct 3.
“Right now, we’re entering a perfect storm of technological advancements enabling what I like to call the ‘era of the patient,’” she told attendees. Patients are starting to view themselves as CEOs of their own bodies and the healthcare services they receive, she said. As with business CEOs, patients hire experts (i.e., physicians) who carry out a vision and work toward a common goal.
“The experts do their job, report back to you, and together as a team, you decide on the direction,” said Farmanfarmaian. As healthcare becomes more patient-centric, consumers will increasingly demand convenient, timely, and personalized care aligned with their unique health and wellness needs, she added.
Telemedicine and virtual visits—two examples of services that demonstrate the intersection of technology and healthcare designed with consumers in mind—are already growing in popularity. By 2021, the global telemedicine market will be valued at more than $40 billion, according to Statistica.
In the United States, telemedicine is increasingly supported at a federal level. In May 2018, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced it would allow VA doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers to administer care to veterans using telehealth regardless of where in the United States the provider or Veteran is located. This includes care that occurs across state lines or outside a VA facility. The new federal rule helps overcome barriers related to licensing restrictions and state-specific telemedicine laws, and it paves the way for greater penetration of the technology nationwide, said Farmanfarmaian.
What can practices do to prepare for this new wave of patient engagement and digital technology? Farmanfarmaian provided four strategies:
1. Rethink the Concept of Patient Experience
“We need to start thinking about what happens outside the exam room as being part of the patient experience,” she said. The patient experience starts the moment a patient calls a provider, and it ends when the bill is fully paid. For patients with chronic conditions, the experience may never end. Technologies that enable online billing and communication, as well as secure text messaging, will become increasingly important, she added.
2. Prioritize Web Presence and Design
“Patients are used to beautiful [user interfaces] from Amazon or Zappos or Instacart,” said Farmanfarmaian. What does this mean for healthcare providers? Consumers want this same experience in healthcare, which means they’ll start to ignore provider websites and interfaces that are antiquated, she added.
3. Embrace New Technologies
Farmanfarmaian urged attendees to explore ways in which they can cater to consumer preferences. Telemedicine and virtual visits are just one example. She provided several other types of technologies, many of which are FDA-approved, that can improve outcomes: Smartphone-connected EKGs, stethoscopes, and portable ultrasounds; smart asthma inhalers that remind patients to take their medications; gamified assessments for cognition; virtual reality for physical therapy; and even socks that can predict diabetic ulcers.
“All of this technology is raising the bar on the interaction between the patient and physician,” she said.
Interestingly, CMS announced in October 2018 that it would require more transparency into the Local Coverage Determination process for new therapies and devices not yet approved by the FDA. According to CMS, the agency will make coverage decisions more transparently with an explanation of the clinical evidence that supports them, and with input from beneficiaries who are affected. The new process means that coverage decisions will be “more transparent and more responsive to innovators bringing new medical technologies to our Medicare beneficiaries,” according to CMS.
4. Look for Revenue Opportunities
For example, CPT code 99091 that denotes remote patient monitoring pays approximately $59. The code description reads as follows: “Collection and interpretation of physiologic data [e.g., ECG, blood pressure, glucose monitoring] digitally stored and/or transmitted by the patient and/or caregiver to the physician or other qualified healthcare professional … requiring a minimum of 30 minutes.”
“There’s a lot of software coming on the market that will help physicians navigate this,” said Farmanfarmaian. These technologies aggregate data for approved wearable devices and alert physicians and patients only when data falls outside of pre-determined parameters, making it easier to digest the information and respond when necessary, she said.