How big data and tech trends are changing the healthcare customer experience

Posted Sept 21, 2016

In the near future, the way we interact with healthcare providers will have changed dramatically.

No longer will patients wait in long lines for minor visits with the family doctor; instead they’ll speak with health practitioners virtually by way of video conferencing, text messaging or phone calls. And as opposed to the standard Q&A about your current state, medical professionals will already be well-informed thanks to the latest data generated by a bevy of health apps.

PwC’s Healthcare Research Institute recently compiled a report that envisioned 2016 as the year in which millions of American consumers sign up for their first video consults, are prescribed health apps by their physicians and begin using the power of smartphones to diagnose their own medical problems.

Industry experts believe these types of customer oriented services, if executed properly, will be transformational for both patient and provider. Here are some of the current trends driving healthcare tech today and how they’ll change the customer experience going forward.

1. Telemedicine

With an aging population and an increasing comfort level with technology, the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications is set to be fast-growing trend in the digital health market.

A 2015 study by Rock Health, a venture fund dedicated to digital health, found that while only seven percent of respondents had tried telemedicine, the vast majority of people who used it reported a high level of satisfaction.

Kathleen Sidenblad, formerly the VP of engineering at Amplify Health and now the CTO of a stealth-stage healthcare tech start-up, agrees it’s a potential revolutionary change in the industry, but there’s work to do. “Telemedicine really increases doctors efficiency,” she says. “However, the way the system works now, the doctor often has to see the patient in person in order to get paid, so it’s all in its infancy.”  In this case, policy needs to catch up with technology in order for patients to better reap the rewards of telemedicine.

2. Data-driven medical care

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about applying big data principles to improve how healthcare — particularly preventative medicine and predictive modeling — is delivered. However, innovation with broad appeal has been hard to come by.

A large study by O’Reilly Media on particular elements of big data shows that only 19 hospitals and healthcare companies in the U.S. have adopted Hadoop technology, a programming framework that allows users to parse huge datasets. This means that healthcare lags behind industries like marketing , financial services and IT services, where many more companies have adopted big data into their strategy.

Jan Oldenburg, a leader in consumer health information and patient engagement, believes health care providers now have the opportunity to do what insurers have been doing all along – predictive modelling based on data.

“Providers should be looking at their patient data and not only helping those with diabetes or heart disease right now, but also putting themselves in a forward-thinking mindset,” says Oldenburg. “We know who is sick this year, but let’s use all of the available data to understand who will be sick next year so that we can help those patients start avoiding those diseases before they get out of control.”

The best marketing companies in the world use the same datasets available to healthcare providers to learn everything about consumers for a profit. In Oldenburg’s opinion, the healthcare industry needs to tap into that pool of information to start getting wise about not just the clinical health of their patients, but also who they are as people. Doing so will result in a better overall experience and help to engage patients in their own health.

3. Connected consumers

While wearables have certainly become a tech trend of choice as of late, the same Rock Health study has acknowledged that the primary demographics of users has begun to shift. Contrary to the popular assumption that health fanatics or tech geeks are the main clientele, the most frequent buyers of wearables are considered to be more unhealthy than the average consumer, with higher rates of hospitalization collectively.

People seem to be adopting the technology for the clinical benefit it provides instead of the sheer novelty of being connected. Kathleen Sidenblad says that wearables can be incredibly empowering to the patient. “For an educated patient to monitor themselves and their own data, to know they are keeping their doctor-recommend parameter within the right band, or to know to call the doc when they see something out of whack — that’s incredibly powerful and useful from a customer experience perspective,” she says.

4. Trusted relationships

According to the PwC report’s predictions for 2016, “patient privacy issues, including concerns about hacked data, will continue to be top-of-mind for providers, payers, and consumers.”

Christine Sublett, former chief security officer at Stanford Children’s Hospital who now runs her own health-tech privacy consulting firm, says there’s no doubt in her mind that patients are savvier about their data than ever before. “People now understand that their data can be breached, and although they might not know exactly what that means, it’s a scary prospect to anyone,” she says.

In this environment, ensuring patients are being engaged by friendly, knowledgeable and trustworthy reps will go a long way to building loyalty. In the customer service field, this means agents will need to act more like account managers than service reps.

The good news, according to the Rock Health study, is that “consumers’ attitudes towards privacy demonstrate that there are not material concerns with sharing data under specific use cases.” The study indicates 80 percent of respondents would share their health data if it meant getting improved care, while more than half said they’d share it for medical research purposes and discounts on premium insurance.

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5. Patient-centered care

Refocusing the industry to go beyond the confines of the doctors office and center around the patient will prove revolutionary for the industry. It’s no secret that people are already turning to online resources for additional help with their health and the health of their families — both as a way to avoid the doctor and to feel in control.

“People don’t just Google health information for fun,” says Lidia Sienkowska, healthcare entrepreneur and consultant. “They’re doing it for a variety of reasons, from looking up personal symptoms to figuring out how to take care of the newborn at home.”

The Rock Health report asserts that about 40 percent of its respondents act upon the information they find online. With conversion rates like that, it’s imperative healthcare providers and insurance carriers embrace and engage patients where they live and through the digital tools they already use.

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