Nora has knee pain. Combine 55 years of normal wear and tear, a bad fall skiing last year, and decades of wearing high heels left Nora with recurrent pain in her left knee. She researched doctors on the Internet and chose a female orthopedist at the local Bone Palace. Dr. Barnes ordered the usual tests. After Nora visited Radiology, she headed over to Dr. Barnes’ office. Dr. Barnes showed Nora her MRI results on a tablet. Good news! Nora does not need knee replacement and will most likely see improvement from physical therapy. When Nora visited the therapist, her test results were instantly available on the integrated computer system. Nora’s therapist set her up on a routine of visits to his practice, and also worked with her on a home schedule tied into an app on her smart phone. The app will not only remind her of home exercise, but will track her progress.
Nora’s story and the almost instantaneous communication between doctor and patient illustrate the sea change technology is bringing to modern healthcare. New technology and tools are increasing connectivity between providers and patients. Accenture surveyed 3,700 physicians in eight countries and found that more doctors are adopting the use of EMRs (Electronic Medical Records) and joining HIEs (Health Information Exchanges). In essence, the digital doctor is now fully in the office.
Evolving technology has infiltrated healthcare in almost every conceivable way, from smart phone apps for diabetic compliance to physician e-prescriptions.
American healthcare is being simultaneously transformed by two distinct forces, blowing quickly like a gale-force wind upon a shore.
- An increasing number of aging baby boomers (those Americans born between 1946 – 1964)
- Mandated health insurance (via the Affordable Care Act) that will increase access and utilization of the health systems
Because of this, tech professionals need of better up-to-date knowledge on new technologies and tools for the rapidly evolving healthcare market. How can technology improve healthcare information and access for aging baby boomers? Which smart apps can bring lasting change?
Forbes Magazine pronounced that this would be the year for digital health, citing our population’s increased connectivity and our need to take on health and wellness. Venture capitalists are helping to drive the moves as well, reported VentureBeat, pouring money into medicine and health startups that are looking to speed up processes, break down confidentiality barriers and adapt to changing cultural trends.
Healthcare technology is the next great frontier for investors, and innovation usually follows the money. Investors are still seeking a healthy ROI for their contributions, noting that current healthcare market is valued somewhere in the $6 trillion ballpark. And where there is a big market, there are usually investors sniffing nearby.
Boomer Nation and Healthcare
Today’s healthcare investment is mostly a result of the Baby Boomers, that class of Americans born during the World War II post-war rebuilding years (1946-1964). No population is affecting American healthcare more. Every day, 10,000 more boomers join the 50-yr.-old-plus demographic.
And while some boomers feel they are healthier than earlier generations, a recent JAMA Internal Medicine study showed quite the opposite. Obesity was far more common among baby boomers (nearly 39 percent), mainly due to lack of exercise. The average age of the participants surveyed was about 54 years old.
The study also pointed out these older Americans still suffer from chronic disease, have continuing disability issues, and rate themselves lower on health than earlier generations of adults in similar age groups. There are many healthcare resources available, even geographically relevant hubs such Emeritus assisted living locations all over the country, including Phoenix and Texas, that deal with helping baby boomers care for their aging parents.
Technology for Wellness
Current digital healthcare trends offer great opportunity for the future, making the combination of aging boomers and technology seem like a match made in heaven.
- 247 million people have downloaded a health app to their mobile devices.
- By 2015, 30 percent of smartphone users will have used a health-related app.
- By 2018, the mobile health technology marketplace will be valued at $11.8 billion, compared with $1.2 billion in 2011.
- Nearly 50 percent of users surveyed want more convenient access to their healthcare practitioner, and a third want to take more control over their health.
- Doctors and patients will start to use share more information in the cloud, likely necessitating online backup reviews and similar services.
How do physicians use smart apps in relationships with patients? Many doctors use a voice recorder app (similar to the introduction above) to take notes and transcribe symptoms. Other doctors surveyed in a 2012 Accenture report on doctors’ healthcare IT usage showed doctors using mobile and medical apps to:
- Enter patient information, symptoms, diagnoses and more.
- Reduce administrative burdens with organizational apps.
- Get alerts and reminders for appointments.
- Assist with diagnostic and treatment decisions while seeing patients.
- See patient’s results electronically, automatically posted to a patient’s e-chart
- See clinical patient information from other providers.
- Write prescriptions, tests and labs electronically.
For consumers, multiple apps on phones, tablets and personal computers help with various health-related needs like medication schedules, no-smoking reminders, food, diet and strength training, personal health records and others. Companies like HExL, Inc. and others also are starting to lay down the foundation that will bridge healthcare and technology better. As founder and CEO Richard Kimball would like to put it, “In the future, the white coats and the [business] suits will become one. Providers have to be able to straddle the diagnosis and treatment elements together with the financial risks they are bearing.”
Watching The Future
While Congress battles to decide whether to nullify the Affordable Care Act, providers and patients alike are embracing technology. The next year should show a clear winner in the use of technology for the healthcare field.