By Brian LeClaire
Putting the individual at the center of health care seems like a natural thing to do. However, it is advancements in technology that are transforming this natural inclination into reality. The health care industry is striving to go further and ensure the system is designed to take care of patients when they are sick and keep them healthy over the long-term.
Health information technology (HIT) serves four purposes. It is an online location for physicians to work; an online location to store clinical information about patients; a way to exchange health information; and a way to apply analytics to that information for the purpose of producing better outcomes at overall lower total cost.
One of the first places to apply HIT within health care has been via electronic medical record (EMR) systems. The promise of EMRs was they would simplify the patient experience. But years of paper charts have to be transitioned to secure electronic files, and those files could not be easily shared between medical providers, such as a primary care physician to a specialist.
Health information exchanges (HIE) have started to deliver on the initial promises of EMRs. The HIE platform enables health care providers–regardless of their EMR system–to exchange essential medical information securely and in real-time.
When a patient checks in at the doctor’s office or hospital, the EMR system immediately identifies the individual and sends a request for information through the HIE–if so connected. The response to the doctor can include preventative care opportunities, laboratory results, hospital admissions and re-admissions, gaps in care and other information about the patient’s medical history that may not appear in single-practice charts or EMR, or as otherwise remembered by the patient. At the conclusion of the visit, the doctor may send a summary of clinical information back through the HIE for appropriate follow-up via the patient’s primary care physician.
As the health system becomes more connected, access to relevant and timely information increases, and, as a consequence, better predictive analytics are developed. With real-time connectivity, the potential for clinical engagement increases and the patient is more likely to take actions that lead to improved outcomes at what is often called the “moment of truth.”
The more information collected on a patient and the more analytics are applied, the more likely it is that gaps in care can be identified. Once those gaps in care are detected, physicians and other members of the health industry are leveraging connectivity and mobile technology to determine the most effective “moment of truth” to bring them to the attention of the patient.
Physicians used to be limited to office visits to learn information about a patient and develop a care plan, but mobile technology allows these interactions to occur at any moment in time. A person living with congestive heart failure can use a Bluetooth-enabled scale to upload his weight (a key health indicator) to his mobile device. If he gains a clinically meaningful amount of weight–even over the weekend–an alert is sent through the mobile app-enabled clinician or other care provider alerting them so that appropriate action can be taken.
Mobile technology is also utilized by physicians to make time-relevant changes to a care plan. By using e-prescribing, doctors can view potential interactions with other drugs already prescribed, alert a patient to side effects, see how the medication is covered by insurance, and discuss the cost differentiation of brand-named drugs versus generics.
When doctors, patients and other key players in the health system have HIEs and mobile connectivity, then they have the ability to introduce people at similar points in their health journey or manage similar health challenges to one another. There are a number of cases where communities such as patientslikeme.com have sprung up around specific health conditions, where individuals share their experiences in daily living and across the care delivery system as a whole. By creating “care groups,” health information can be securely shared and the group is better able to provide connected, holistic care.
Take the example of the matriarch of a family who has several health conditions and is home-bound. The objective of the family is to keep her in her home rather than move her to a medical facility. There is a medical professional providing care alongside family members and friends. All of those people are a care unit and a social community, focused on providing care to the matriarch. If they have a common set of tools to work with, such as having access to information about who has been in her home, and specifics such as what care she’s received and what medications she’s been given, better outcomes are achievable through such virtual care coordination–made possible in a highly connected, app-enabled world.
For people who are healthy and are seeking to stay healthy, technology helps them stay plugged into their well-being. Individuals can customize their health solutions with new applications and new generations of wearable technology that serve their specific health care and lifestyle needs. Like HIEs for providers, this technology is customized through the power of mobile, social, cloud and analytics.
Regardless of an individual’s motivations–being well, staying healthy, managing their health condition, living a fulfilled life–technology is making it possible and ensuring that what should be natural is really simple as well as easy to do.
Brian LeClaire is senior vice president and CIO of Humana.