The Growing Role of Digital Health and How It’s Shaping Patient Engagement

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Tune in as Avalere experts interview each other on hot topics in healthcare. In this discussion, Avalere Consultant, Priya Gaur is interviewed by Camille Boler, Associate, on the increasing role of digital health and how it's influencing patient engagement.
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“I think the relationship between digital health and delivering patient-centered care is critical. Technology can really equip patients to fully engage in their care experience whether it's leading to the point of care, at the point of care, or beyond the point of care. ” Priya Gaur

This interview was originally published as a podcast. The audio is no longer available, but you can read the transcript below. For updates on our newly released content, visit our Insight Subscription page.


Camille: Hi everyone and welcome to Avalere’s podcast on digital health. My name is Camille Boler and I’m an associate here at Avalere Health and today I’m joined by Priya Gaur a consultant in our Center for Healthcare Transformation.

Camille: Priya, how are you today?

Priya: I’m doing well. How are you doing Camille?

Camille: I’m great. Thanks for asking and thank you for joining us today. I’m really excited to talk to you about digital health today especially since it’s a growing topic of conversation for stakeholders.

So Priya, my first question for you is How do you define digital health?

Priya: Digital Health is really the use of technology to enable information exchange, enhance clinical decision-making and engage patient. So sometimes I think it’s helpful to define digital health through examples of things we’re seeing in the marketplace. Virtual care is one example. When we say virtual care we mean, the delivery of healthcare services through digital platforms like your cell phone or through a video app on your phone. Another example would be wearables or connected heath or worn technologies that could be used to track your health and activity-related data. So think about your wrist tracker that assess your physical activity. Another example is digital patient engagement. So, remote interactions with patients, consumers, and caregivers through platforms that can range from social media to patient portals to clinical registries and shared decision-making tools. And then finally and area of digital health that we’re focused on is artificial intelligence or products and technologies that can imitate intelligent behavior or mimic human learning and reasoning.

Camille: I definitely have a better understanding of what digital health is. I love how you divvied it up into 4 different examples or buckets. So, I want to go back to one of the points that you made about patient engagement. So, my next question for you is how would you characterize the relationship between digital health and delivering patient-centered care?

Priya: I think the relationship between digital health and delivering patient-centered care is critical. Technology can really equip patients to fully engage in their care experience whether it’s leading to the point of care, at the point of care, or beyond the point of care. It can help patients feel more prepared for their clinical encounter. It can engage patients with providers in the spaces or environments that are most convenient to them which in some cases can be the home. And it can really help patients coordinate their care beyond the point of care whether that’s staying adherent to their treatments or their treatment protocol. So, it’s really, I view the 2 as very central and feeding off of one another.

Camille: You brought up a lot of great points, so I’d love to dive deeper into this. I guess what are some real-world innovative examples of digital health?

Priya: One interesting example comes out of the Mayo Clinic, where at Mayo they are testing out using Amazon Alexa enabled programs to deliver discharge instructions to patients who have just undergone surgery for skin lesions. So that’s a really interesting example of how technology to coordinate care after the point of care. Another interesting example comes from Apple and Aetna who have recently entered a partnership in which Aetna members are provided with an Apple watch and can effectively earn it back by demonstrating that they are meeting their specified wellness goals. So that’s another interesting example of how technology, especially a consumer-facing technology, can help incentivize healthier behaviors which aligns with Aetna’s goals for member management.

Finally, we’re also seeing some interesting examples coming out of the public sector. So recently, CMS released its fist consumer-facing app. It’s called What’s Covered and it’s intended for Medicare beneficiaries who have original Medicare, so not those with Medicare Advantage. And effectively, it helps them search for a particular medical product or procedure to see if they’re covered. So, to go back to our earlier conversation, this is really a kind of technology that can help patients feel equipped to participate in decision making around their care.

Camille: Those are all great examples and I love how each one of them really touches on how this is applicable to so many broad populations and audiences. So digital health is really increasing in prominence. So, my final question for you is we’ve talked about the benefits in its current role, but I’d like to talk about your vision for how digital health in patient-centered care will look like 5 years from now?

Priya: You know we’ve seen over the past couple of years that the digital health market has grown significantly. In 2018, we saw the most funded year in digital health with $8.1 billion being poured into the digital health market and, I think this will continue to grow it indicates that there is certainly an appetite for digital health solutions moving forward. As it relates to a vision for digital health and patient-centered care though, I think the real opportunity is to ensure that patients who stand to benefit from digital health solutions actually receive them and for that to happen there are a number of challenges that really need to be prioritized by digital health companies as well as the range of healthcare stakeholder who are beginning to engage in digital health. So first, I think there’s an opportunity to really solidify the digital health business model and to do so by generating and demonstrating compelling evidence. We’re starting to see that a lot of payers and providers are experiencing pilot fatigue where they’ve been pitched on many different digital health solutions and they need support in differentiating which ones are truly going to have the most impact for the high-need, complex populations. With that it’s really incumbent upon digital health manufacturers to not only demonstrate a compelling pilot protocol but one that demonstrates the solution itself can be scaled to those different populations.

A second challenge that really needs to be addressed, and this really relevant from the patient-centered care perspective on this issue, is really ensuring that patient concerns about privacy and data sharing come to the forefront of the conversation. It’s critical that patients have an understanding of where their data are going and that they trust that algorithms that might be used to implement care decisions are truly going to do so with their best interest in mind. So, moving forward I think it’s critical for stakeholders across the healthcare spectrum to think about these issues related to data sharing and privacy and ensuring that patients can truly trust sharing their data with a variety of organizations.

Camille: Right, well Priya thank you for taking the time to chat with us today. We’ve talked a lot about digital health, its benefits, its current role in healthcare and challenges that could happen moving forward and some potential solutions. As this topic continues to grow and influence the provision of healthcare services that are valuable to patients, it’s going to be really important to understand this so thank you for providing this great insight.

Priya: Happy to.

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