Virtual health—Coordinating care in the future

We are constantly experiencing change in the healthcare IT industry. For example, the emergence of the Internet, the introduction of smart phones and tablets, and more recently, the shift toward intelligent solutions that take volumes of information, interpret it and make predictions and recommendations for action.

Digital products like Alexa and Siri “learn” a person’s favorite restaurants, music and retail stores and make recommendations on different eateries to visit, items to buy or events to attend. These tools can also perform simple tasks, such as turning on lights, locking doors, adding to a running list of needed groceries or purchasing an item off the Internet.

While intelligent solutions are being used to enhance day-to-day life, these tools can also be employed in healthcare with potentially transformative results. Here are some specific ways that this type of technology can improve care coordination and delivery.

Monitoring compliance
Once a patient leaves the hospital or doctor’s office, it can be hard to determine whether the individual is following their care plan and making improvements. Intelligent tools can help providers keep tabs on a patient’s health over time, as well as check if the individual is compliant with their specialized care plan. For example, if the patient wears a biometric device to capture vital signs such as blood pressure, heart rate or weight, the device can automatically upload those readings into an intelligent solution that is accessible to the provider. This gives the clinician a clear overall picture of the patient’s health patterns as opposed to the snapshot that’s taken during the patient visit. It also allows the provider to spot worrisome readings and intervene if necessary.

Not every patient approaches their care in the same manner, and interactive technology is designed to flex with patients’ varying attitudes and needs. For those individuals who are conscientious about following the care plan, an intelligent solution can provide detailed health metrics and affirm the patient’s progress toward meeting them. For those who need gentle reminders to comply, a tool can send alerts and encouragement to take medication, get the right amount of exercise or check A1C3 levels. For those patients who are unwilling to proactively manage their health, a solution can make compliance more passive, monitoring blood pressure and heart rate without patient intervention and automatically communicating those readings to the care provider. Should a patient have questions at any point, these tools can even facilitate communication between care providers to get questions answered.

In addition to assessing and fostering compliance, intelligent solutions can enable more health coaching, recommending different items to the patient that are specific to their needs and characteristics. For instance, a tool can suggest certain exercises or particular foods that might be appropriate for a patient with congestive heart failure or diabetes.

By leveraging these kinds of solutions to monitor care compliance in real-time, organizations can be more proactive and help patients avoid acute incidents or hospitalizations—improving outcomes and satisfaction while taking costs out of the system.

Addressing the social determinants of health
Although hospitals are being held accountable for unnecessary patient readmissions after discharge, sometimes those readmissions are out of the hospitals’ control. A significant number of patients are said to be rehospitalized after 30 days because of social factors, including lack of access to healthy food, an inability to pick up medications, unreliable transportation to attend follow-up appointments and the absence of a strong support system. Intelligent solutions can address some of these factors, reducing the likelihood that they will interfere with a patient’s recovery. For instance, some tools can connect patients with Meals on Wheels, transportation services or grocery delivery. A patient can access these resources from a mobile app, scheduling needed services with just a few finger swipes. This technology can also provide information for care coordinators, so if patients reach out for help, the care coordinator can access the data and easily share it with patients. For high-risk patients, organizations can even match individuals to the necessary resources before they leave the hospital, so they are better prepared to navigate post-discharge life.

Intelligent technology can also facilitate non-traditional appointments that may be easier for the patient to attend, enabling virtual visits via the phone, text, email or Skype. Ultimately, technology that anticipates and mitigates an individual’s socio-economic constraints can set the patient up for greater care plan compliance and better long-term health.

It’s an exciting time for healthcare delivery
As we traverse this third stage of technology evolution, more devices are being developed each day, and the adoption rates are through the roof. Healthcare companies are looking at technologies used in other industries and seeing how they can apply them in the healthcare space. Although healthcare historically has been behind the times in terms of tech adoption, that does not have to continue. The next three to five years are going to see tremendous change, and organizations that embrace it can reimagine how they deliver care.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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