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Don’t Be The Last Practice To “Get” Digital Health

Posted on September 14, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Physicians, are you savvy about the digital health technologies your patients use? Do you make it easy for them to interact with you digitally and share the health data they generate? If not, you need to move ahead and get there already. While you may be satisfied with sidestepping the whole subject, patients aren’t, a recent report suggests.

As you probably know already a growing number of patients, most notably millennials, are integrating digital health tools into their everyday lives.

Research from Rock Health, which surveyed about 4,000 consumers, found that the share of respondents using at least one digital tool (such as telemedicine, digital health tracking apps or wearables) hit 87% last year. To get a sense of how impressive this is, bear in mind that just five years ago, only a tiny handful of consumers had given any of these tools a try.

What’s also of note is that some of these consumers were willing to skip insurance and pay out of pocket for digital care. One particularly clear example of this involves live video telemedicine; Sixty-nine percent of consumers who paid out of pocket for such consults said they were “extremely satisfied” with the experience.

Patients who reported having a chronic health condition seemed less likely to use digital tools to track their health metrics. Case in point: When it came to blood pressure tracking, just 11% captured this data with a digital app or journal. However, this may reflect the higher-than-average of those diagnosed with elevated pressures, a senior population with a lower level of tech sophistication.

Lest all of this sound intimidating, there’s at least some good news here. Apparently, a full 86% of respondents said that they’d be willing to share data with their physician, a much larger share than those who would exchange data with a health plan (58%) or pharmacy (52%). In other words, they trust you, which is a big asset under these circumstances.

If you want to dive into digital health more deeply, here’s a few obvious places to start:

  • Link in-person and telemedicine visits: Rock Health found that a whopping 92% pf respondents who had an in-person visit first were satisfied with their video visit.
  • Be vigilant about data security: Almost 9 out of 10 consumers participating in the survey said that they would be willing to share data with you. Don’t lose that trust to a health data breach; it will be hard if not impossible to get it back.
  • Bring chronically-ill seniors on board: While this group may not be terribly inclined to digitize their healthcare, doing so can help you treat them more effectively, so you’ll probably want to make that point up front.

Like it or not, wearables, fitness bands, mobile health apps, and other digital health tools have arrived. It’s no longer a matter of if you take advantage of them, but when and how. Don’t be the last practice in your neighborhood that just doesn’t get it.

Consumers Use Fitness Bands Track Symptoms Of Illegal Drug Use

Posted on July 20, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Over the last few years, providers have begun to do more and more with patient-generated health data. Much of this data has come from fitness bands such as the Fitbit or Apple Watch, whose data adds some additional dimensions to the big data warehouses hospitals maintain.

In recent times consumers have apparently found a new and possibly lethal use for this feedback. According to a CNBC story, a number of people in their 20s are using these devices to track the effect of illegal drugs on their system. That’s especially the case among techies already quite familiar with running their lives with devices, the article suggested.

Don’t believe it? For proof, the author cites a number of social media sites where users discuss the benefits of tracking how illicit drugs like cocaine, ecstasy and speed affect their bodies. For example, a Reddit user recently posted a description of using a health tracking device to keep tabs on their pulse after taking cocaine. In a skewed version of medical data sharing, the post even included heart rate graphs.

Another Redditor cut to the chase: “Drugs are basically the only reason I wear a Fitbit,” the poster wrote. “I want an early warning system for when my heart’s going to explode.”

Of course, very few physicians (if any) would condone this practice, which certainly doesn’t offer a bulletproof way to protect users from the effects of the drugs they’ve taken.  Not only that, consumer-grade trackers are nowhere near as accurate as a standard medical device.

Some would say that this is a nasty example of the law of unintended consequences. With very little evidence to support their assumptions, some users are basing their lives, in effect, on the accuracy of the relatively-ineffective technology.

On the other hand, at least some of those who track their body’s response to drugs may have a sense of the devices’ limitations.

One drug user who tracks his vital signs with a fitness band told a reporter he feels that the device is useful despite its limitations. The man, identified only as Owen, said that while the band may not be completely accurate, it seems to display heart rates consistently at low and high exertion levels.

“If somebody says, ‘Let’s do a line,’ I’ll look at my watch,” Owen told the publication. “If I see I’m at 150 or 160, I’ll say, ‘I’m good.’”

Physicians, Patients Intrigued By Digital Health Options

Posted on March 12, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

While digital health technologies have been available for many years, it’s taken a long time to get both doctors and patients comfortable with using them. However, the time is fast approaching, as the following study suggests.

New research from Ernst & Young has concluded that both physicians and consumers want to collaborate using digital technologies. The study found that consumers are comfortable reaching out to the doctors via digital channels and that physicians agree that digital technologies and data sharing can improve patient well-being.

More than half (54%) of consumers responding to the survey said they were comfortable contacting their doctor digitally. Also, they were interested in using technologies found outside of the physician’s office, including at-home diagnostic testing (36%), using a smartphone or connected device to share information (33%) and video consultations (21%).

Meanwhile, 83% of physicians told researchers that harvesting consumer and patient-generated data would make more personalized care plans possible and improve care quality. In addition, 66% said they felt increased use of digital technologies would make the healthcare system more efficient and lower costs, while 64% said it would help lower the burden on doctors and nurses, reducing the potential for burnout.

To make such cooperation practical, however, providers need to create incentives for data sharing, the E&Y researchers concluded.

When asked whether they were prepared to share lifestyle information with their physician, only 26% said yes. On the other hand, if doing so would allow them to reduce waiting times, 61% said they would share such data, if it would lower costs, 55% were interested. Also of note, 26% said they would be willing to share dietary and exercise information if they got tailored diet and exercise plans.

That being said, the level of interest in digital cooperation varied by demographics. Specifically, the survey found much lower levels of engagement and interest from consumers age 45 years and older, regardless of the form of technology discussed.

Still, both consumers and physicians seem to have a fair amount of optimism about the future of health. Sixty-four percent of consumers reported that they saw the US health industry as innovative, and 70% of physicians saw currently used technology as effective, both of which are high-water marks.

As this research points out, the gap between physician users of medical data and consumer portal users is narrowing by the day, but it’s still far from closed. It may take some time to figure out what incentives consumers find the most motivating. At the moment, it’s still a shot in the dark.

Big Gap Exists Between Wearables Hype And Physician Use

Posted on January 12, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Not long ago, I wrote an article describing some major advances in wearables and health tracking technologies. Standout technologies included Grail, a cancer detection startup, Beddit, which makes sleep tracking technology, and Senosis Health, which developed apps using smartphone sensors to monitor health signals.

In the article, I argued that we’re past the question of whether wearables are valuable and that it’s time to focus on what we want to do with next-generation of superpowered health tracking devices instead. I was driven by stats like the ones produced by the Consumer Technology Association, which asserted last year that by 2020, physician use of patient-generated data will reach critical mass. It noted that wearables are being used more often in clinical trials and that some health insurers offering free wearables to patients, trends which it predicts will cause the market to explode.

But at least to some extent, I think the CTA (and I) were both wrong. As impressive as the new patient trackers are, they won’t be that valuable if nobody on the frontlines of medicine uses them. And even if trackers are being used in clinical trials or given away by health insurers, that doesn’t mean physicians are on board. The issue is not just whether devices work well, but whether doctors can actually use them in their daily care routine.

Recent stats suggest that few physicians actually use patient-generated data in their practice. In fact, the Physicians Practice Technology Survey found that just 5% of respondents reported that they use such such devices as part of their care routine.

I’m not surprised by this research. My own informal discussions with physicians suggest that the number of practices that actively use patient-generated data may be even lower than 5%.

Why are so few medical practices leveraging patient-generated data? The reasons are fairly straightforward:

  • Few of devices offer measurements that are consistent, predictable and valid
  • Vanishingly few are FDA-approved, which does little to inspire clinicians’ confidence
  • In most cases, the data produced by wearables and related devices isn’t compatible with practice EMRs

For what it’s worth, I do believe that many physicians — especially those with an interest in health IT– know that patient-generated health data will eventually play a valuable role in their practice. After all, in principle, there must be ways that such data could inform patient care.

But right now, the simple devices patients own aren’t sophisticated enough to serve practice needs, and most of the advanced patient tracking devices are at the idea or testing phase. Until patient tracking devices become more practical, and offer reliable, valid, usable data, they’re likely to remain a dark horse.

Supercharged Wearables Are On The Horizon

Posted on January 3, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Over the last several years, the healthcare industry has been engaged in a rollicking debate over the value of patient-generated health data. Critics say that it’s too soon to decide whether such tools can really add value to medical care, while fans suggest it’s high time to make use of this information.

That’s all fine, but to me, this discussion no longer matters. We are past the question of whether consumer wearables data helps clinicians, which, in their current state, are under-regulated and underpowered. We’re moving on to profoundly more-capable devices that will make the current generation look like toys.

Today, tech giants are working on next-generation devices which will perform more sophisticated tracking and solve more targeted problems. Clinicians, take note of the following news items, which come from The New York Times:

  • Amazon recently invested in Grail, a cancer-detection start-up which raised more than $900 million
  • Apple acquired Beddit, which makes sleep-tracking technology
  • Alphabet acquired Senosis Health, which develops apps that use smartphone sensors to monitor health signals

And the action isn’t limited to acquisitions — tech giants are also getting serious about creating their own products internally. For example, Alphabet’s research unit, Verily Life Sciences, is developing new tools to collect and analyze health data.

Recently, it introduced a health research device, the Verily Study Watch, which has sensors that can collect data on heart rate, gait and skin temperature. That might not be so exciting on its own, but the associated research program is intriguing.

Verily is using the watch to conduct a study called Project Baseline. The study will follow about 10,000 volunteers, who will also be asked to use sleep sensors at night, and also agreed to blood, genetic and mental health tests. Verily will use data analytics and machine learning to gather a more-detailed picture of how cancer progresses.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. We are not looking at your father’s wearables anymore — we’re looking at devices that can change how disease is detected and perhaps even treated dramatically.

Sure, the Fitbits of the world aren’t likely to go away, and some organizations will remain interested in integrating such data into the big data stores. But given what the tech giants are doing, the first generation of plain-vanilla devices will soon end up in the junk heap of medical history.