The Human Problem With Health Technology

Bruce BroussardIn a series of LinkedIn Influencer blog posts, Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard shares insights and ideas about the future of health care and discusses the importance of working together to improve the health-care system as well as our own health and well-being. His latest — The Human Problem With Health Technology — is reprinted below. To see all of his blog posts, click here.

One of my favorite activities is taking a bike ride. It’s a wonderful way to experience nature and challenge myself. How many miles did I ride? How long did it take? Did I do better than my last time?

Cycling is traditionally an individual sport, so I use a Garmin device to answer those questions. My Garmin device provides me with details, but it’s limited when it comes to seeing how I relate to others who also love cycling. For that, I use the app Strava.

Strava is a way for me and others to see how we measure up to one another. Strava is not a device, but it’s designed to create a community by connecting fellow cyclists. You can follow anyone on it.

Despite the individuality of cycling, there is a need to connect with other people who share this experience. There’s a social aspect to the sport, and it reflects the challenge we face with technology in health care today: Technology must be easy to use and deliver the human connection to improve a person’s health.

And nowhere is this more critical than in America’s rapidly growing senior population—a large number of whom are grappling with multiple chronic conditions.

Addressing Loneliness and Isolation

America’s seniors could benefit greatly from more human-centered technology. Three out of four Americans aged 65 or older live with multiple chronic conditions, and 71 percent of the money spent on health care in the U.S. is associated with chronic conditions. And the baby-boom generation is steaming into retirement, with 10,000 people a day aging into Medicare.

But health isn’t just about the physical aspects. Research has found that 17 percent of adults age 65 or older are isolated, and 26 percent are at increased risk of death due to subjective feelings of loneliness. If a person is living alone, and dealing with multiple chronic conditions, he or she might become depressed. People also won’t eat right or be active if they’re depressed.

Our species needs to connect with other people. Yet millions of seniors are lonely; they don’t have adequate social connections. That innate need to connect, to be social, and to be loved and to love other people is not being met in a large part of the population.

Things like remote monitoring technology can help, but only if it incorporates a person’s lifestyle and the physician/patient relationship. Technology has to go beyond monitoring basic physical activity. Devices have to achieve true connections and address real chronic health problems, like the nearly five million Americans in the U.S. who have congestive heart failure (CHF).

An Example of Connected Health

In order to help our members with chronic conditions spend more time living their lives by staying out of the hospital, we launched a CHF remote monitoring pilot program to help them keep track of their condition.

When a person has CHF, his or her heart doesn’t pump strongly enough to move blood around the body. As a result, the person retains water – in places such as the lungs, legs or chest cavity – and can suffer from shortness of breath. If the person experiences a significant change in weight from the previous day, this could signal a complication, which might lead to a trip to the hospital.

At Humana, we’re all too familiar with CHF. Approximately 300,000 of our 3.2 million Humana Medicare Advantage (MA) members live with CHF, and they account for more than 40 percent of MA admissions. Here’s how the pilot program works, with a member we’ll call “Brenda.”

After being selected, Brenda met with her primary care physician and a nurse. She was shown how to use a smart scale that would send her weight to Humana every day. When Brenda weighed herself the next morning, the scale sent her weight to her nurse, who called Brenda to congratulate her on her first weigh in.

If Brenda’s weight were outside an established range, her physician and nurse would be immediately notified. The nurse could then contact Brenda to see if she needed a new prescription or a consultation with the physician, enabling Brenda to have her weight fluctuation addressed immediately without having to go to the hospital.

Ease of Use and Human Connection

Members who participated in the CHF pilot program weighed in 88 percent of the time during the first 100 days. So why has this program been successful? There are two core elements: ease of use and human connection.

The table stakes for remote monitoring is ease of use. Brenda’s scale has no plug, no buttons, and requires almost no instructions. She doesn’t need Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to use the scale, and she doesn’t need to register it anywhere. Her scale simply works right out of the box. To be certain Brenda knows exactly what to do with her scale, she used it in front of her nurse as soon as she received it.

But to keep weighing in every day, this new activity has to be bonded to something Brenda values: human connection. Because Brenda knows her nurse is on the other side of the scale, and is looking out for her health and well-being, she is more likely to weigh in each day. Additionally, we have found that group enrollment sessions help people like Brenda because they see other people with CHF taking action to monitor their condition.

The program only works if people like Brenda take a small action each day. Technology can make it easier for Brenda to take that action, but in the end she will do it because of deeper, more human motivations like connecting to others.

There are other elements that help enhance the effectiveness of health-related technology, in addition to ease of use and the human connection, such as the motivation that comes as a result of a person seeing his or her specific progress (personalized, real-time, relevant information, aka the “so what”). This can be a powerful hook for encouraging ongoing engagement and helping people become more knowledgeable, and confident, in managing their condition. For example, the CHF pilot also includes sending “certificates of accomplishment,” recognizing those who’ve reached various milestones and that receiving recognition for their effort seemed to be an effective way of keeping people engaged.

The Way Forward

Health-related technology such as remote monitoring and scales can help our aging population improve their health. But it won’t do so unless the technology brings together the lifestyle and clinical aspects of a person’s health in a way that makes it easy to get people more engaged in managing their health.

The integration of physicians and clinicians, as we’ve seen with our CHF program, is important; their recommendations carry influence, and they can ensure that the data is used to highlight moments of influence. The key is not just the utilization of the technology; it’s the design and integration of the program. There is a real need for deep clinical engagement, both in getting people engaged in their health and in helping physicians and other health care providers move beyond prevention and wellness and toward managing chronic conditions.

At Humana, taking care of seniors living with multiple chronic conditions is what we do best. The role of technology is only going to become more important. But let’s never forget that technology must make things easier and more human to make a difference in health.

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