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Patient engagement and big data analytics: What can medical providers learn from other industries?

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CEO, Damo Consulting Inc.

While health systems are using high-tech and high-touch approaches to reach patients, active patient engagement remains elusive, a recent report by HealthLeaders magazine indicates. Recognizing this, many nontraditional players are entering the healthcare market, including several Silicon Valley startups that are disrupting healthcare with digital business models that mimic the successful tactics of more mature business-to-consumer enterprises.

The talk today is all about who will be the next Amazon or Uber of healthcare—call this the consumerization of the healthcare industry. As healthcare follows in the steps of other B2C industries and becomes more consumerized, medical providers need to consider how to leverage big data to improve patient engagement if they want to maintain their standing as industry leaders.

Big data, digital health and patient engagement

The push today seems to be the using big data to better understand healthcare consumers in an attempt to better serve their needs.

However, the organizations leading this push are not necessarily the traditional health systems. Instead, they are digital health "unicorns" like ZocDoc, which puts the needs and wants of patients first. Considering that ZocDoc is a five-year-old company valued at over a billion dollars, it is safe to say that the doctor-patient relationships in the traditional healthcare setting are being reinvented.

A recent study by Frost & Sullivan explains that the proliferation of wearables and connected devices will also drive patient care in the future. The report indicates that healthcare offers that promise opportunities for the application of wearable technology may have a competitive edge over those from technology laggards. Consumers are drawn to providers who leverage the latest devices, such as smartwatches, and these types of gadgets now enable clinicians to exchange patient data and messages in a secure and HIPAA-compliant manner, according to Healthcare IT News.

These technologies don't just benefit patients, though. Smartphone apps capture increasing amounts of data about weight, diet, activity levels, fertility, sleep patterns and symptoms, providing a more thorough understanding of the patient than what a provider could get from a 15-minute visit. Collection and analysis of this data can help medical providers make more informed decisions and encourage better outcomes. The analysis of unstructured data such as images has opened up possibilities in diagnosis and treatment that were previously unavailable to clinicians and patients alike.

The good news is that with all of the information, it is possible to significantly improve patient engagement.

What can providers do with all this data?

The HealthLeaders report points out that providers who can identify the best combination of face-to-face and technology-enabled interactions will have a greater impact on outcomes. Here are some examples of how this could happen:

  • https://kapost-files-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/direct/1455055775-27-7572/Healthcare-Patient-Engagement-Blog.jpgData from diverse sources will now enable better care protocols, better ratings and more informed methods of influencing patient behavior outside the medical office.
  • Applying new analytical methods and predictive models to data from disparate sources provides better insights into patient engagement issues, allowing health systems to better target resources.
  • The Internet of Things in the form of sensors and smart devices will enable more remote patient engagement options. Large group practices and health systems participating in shared savings programs can use this to intervene earlier among sicker patients.

What stands in the way?

Why has the road to better business intelligence been such a difficult one for healthcare compared to other sectors like retail and entertainment?

Healthcare-specific challenges include:

  • A fragmented system of providers
  • Lack of interoperability
  • Lack of standardized data
  • Inadequate IT infrastructure
  • Lack of in-house analytical expertise
  • HIPAA and other regulatory concerns

However, vertical integration within the industry is patching together upstream and downstream providers, connecting physician practices and post-acute providers with hospital systems. Horizontal integrations are resulting in shared services models, which through economies of scale allow for updates to IT infrastructure and formation of dedicated analysis teams.

Providers who are already finding innovative ways to engage their patients are seeing not only healthier patients, but also healthier margins.

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