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Disrupting Health Care Through Technology

In 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 topics range from the powerful potential of technology to the issue of loneliness. His latest, Disrupting Health Care Through Technology, is reprinted below. To see all of his blog posts, click here.

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Bruce Broussard

“How can the health care industry use innovative technologies to make a positive impact in health?”

This question – in one variation or another – is one I’m asked quite a bit when I meet with employers, customers, clinicians or government officials. Technology is seen as an innovative and disruptive force that can transform the way we deliver care.

My response has been to say that the industry is starting to make progress, but we’ve only begun to unlock the transformational and disruptive power that technology can have on health care. I point to how the emergence of wearable technologies, combined with the evolution of electronic health records, is reflective of our initial progress, but are still the first steps of the journey of a thousand miles.

If we want to be successful, connectivity, the exchange/sharing of information and the combination of big data and analytics must serve as the foundation for this transformation to occur.

The Data Factor
When you look at data, there are four key elements that serve as the foundation: data collection, data analysis, data insights and action based on the insight.

Data collection, which includes a range of data like electronic medical records (EMRs), lab tests, sugar levels for people with diabetes, heart monitors and other mobile devices, is essential for a productive data analysis. Through the use of algorithms and other means, the collected data is analyzed. Based on this data analysis, the providers are able to determine an insight from the data that can be used to address a gap-in-care. Since the provider has a more holistic view of the person, the provider can recommend a specific action – at a moment of influence – where this personalized data insight can make a difference in the health of the consumer.

It’s not just the impact that data will have on the provider. The way health care is financed is already being influenced by the importance of data. For example, take the evolution from the fee-for-service reimbursement payment model – paying providers on a service basis – to value-based payments, where providers are reimbursed for the overall health of the patients that they serve.

Given all that’s required to effectively manage a health population, data analytics is essential because it helps providers take a customized approach to each individual’s health supported by a more holistic understanding of the person’s health.

As we improve the timeliness and level, our ability to personalize the moment of influence will become robust. This is the true impact of increasing data, not just simply counting steps.

A New Age in Technology
Health care will be transformed – and ultimately disrupted – through the widespread adoption of data and other technologies. It’s starting to happen before our eyes. Google and Novartis have teamed up to bring smart contact lenses to consumers. IBM is using the power of the cloud to disrupt health care.

Apple’s HealthKit is designed to provide consumers with a way to view all their health data from their devices in one place. This enables Apple to learn more about the health of the consumer and create an app ecosystem that will provide real value. Apple’s app ecosystem may also provide the company with a view into the health of these consumers that providers don’t have. This view will require an expertise in analytics; Apple, Google and others are already starting to describe themselves as analytics companies in the health realm as opposed to focusing on products and services.

And many companies that most of us have not heard of today will also disrupt health care through technology.

So what does this mean? The short-term is about devices today that you’re wearing on your arm now like a Garmin; the long-term prospect is about devices that actually go inside your arm. It may sound like science fiction – and it’s a little unsettling in some ways – but we’re nearly there.

For example, Ada Poon, a professor from Stanford, created a fascinating technology that enables power to be transferred “deep inside the human body.” Professor Poon and his team built “an electronic device smaller than a grain of rice that acts as a pacemaker” that can be powered by a power source outside the body. While the article noted that this platform has not yet been tested in people, Poon believes these new devices could “create new ways to treat illness and alleviate pain.”

An insightful book, “The Second Machine Age,” by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, looks at Google’s self-driving car, which navigates the open road by processing reams of data instantaneously. If the 100-plus-year-old automobile can be revolutionized by technology, so can health care.

These technological advances will help foster an innovative climate across the entire spectrum of health. From the conventional yearly checkup to remote patient monitoring, technology will not only serve the consumer but make it easier for providers to serve their patients. For example, iRobot and InTouch Health are using the untapped power of robotics to help doctors remotely interact with their hospital patients through telemedicine robots.

Technology will also disrupt access points in health care. For many decades, you had the doctor’s office, the hospital or an urgent care facility as your main place to go when you got sick. Today, you can speak to a doctor at a telemedicine kiosk, through your tablet, iPhone or some other mobile device. These access points will only continue to expand as technology is applied into health care.

For example, look at the power of telemedicine. A consumer might go visit their provider, who is able to take a picture of a mole or rash they have a concern with and send it directly to the dermatologist without the consumer having to see the dermatologist.

Making it Work for Health Care
With any disruptive technology we apply to health care, we must make sure, first and foremost, that it directly or indirectly leads to healthier people. The personalization of the moments of influence combined with increasing resources and more convenient access will change the landscape of health care.

For example, being able to identify a person with diabetes sugar level is increasing due to a smart insulin pump, than proactively reaching out to them via a telemedicine visit to coach or assist them in moderating their sugar levels. After normalizing the sugar levels, and realizing the cause was from a certain food type, you are able to provide further education on nutrition through an online nutrition class with a group of virtual friends.

We all know that spending too much time on our social channels can lessen our productivity, but a diabetes forum where people share best practices on how to combat the disease is using technology to make people healthier.

And that’s the main point. Technology for the sake of technology is not enough. Technological disruption must make it easier for people to exercise, eat healthy, and support a proper work/life balance.

Leveraging technology will require the health care industry to face several challenges that will be instrumental to success:

  • The health workforce must become highly skilled in technology – Consumers are much more sophisticated due to their wide embrace of technology, from how they manage their financial portfolios to what they buy online, and health care needs to catch up. The health care workforce must not only expand its technical skill set to capitalize on disruptions caused by technology but also improve its understanding of the consumer, who is getting even smarter about their health through technology. As more advanced technology is integrated into care delivery models and the cloud becomes more commonly used, care professionals of all levels must receive the training they need to maximize new technologies that help them better serve their patients.
  •  Providers must expand skills sets beyond the clinical – Given how science is being digitized, factors like emotional intelligence and communication skills will become more crucial as technology alters the role of the provider. It’s not just using technology; it’s being able to find patterns in the data generated by technology. Identifying an action from the data analysis that can lead to a better health outcome is a must.
  •  Partnerships with providers will offer more robust use of technology – Technology and analytics requires significant expertise and resources, therefore, leading providers should seek vendors and partners that advance their clinical model. Traditionally, billing systems and EMR technology has been the common solution. The future partners will include examples like sophisticated consumer and clinical analytic models, interoperability connections, population health management, remote monitoring technology or consumer engaging mobile applications.
  •  Machines must evolve from transactions to relationship building – It’s time to expand beyond devices that count steps, calories and monitoring blood pressure. Brynjolfsson and McAfee astutely address the importance of evolving from transactions to relationship building with the consumer and taking the complexity to the back of the system so a simpler, more meaningful relationship will rise up, enabling the individual to better manage their health.
  • Integration is essential for better health – Take the hundreds of millions of health care claims that are processed each year, which yield a significant amount of individual health and lifestyle information. As these systems evolve and collect more and more health data, the integration of these systems will be critical in identifying a moment of influence where technology can make a true difference in the health of the consumer. It’s not just the way the systems collect the data; it’s the integration of these systems that must take place.

Where Do We Go From Here?
Evolutions in technology will continue to disrupt care models and help the care industry transform itself in a consumer-driven model.

Most importantly, disruptive and innovative technologies must support the health aspirations of the consumers who use it, for the 35-year-old-mother of two training for a marathon to the 75-year-old grandfather who wants to attend his granddaughter’s wedding.

Leveraging the power of technology to transform health care through data analytics and other means will go beyond the care industry. Businesses, consumers and others will have a unique opportunity to improve their health through a new wave of innovation and disruption that has transformed countless industries for the better.

For my industry, the challenges we face – and will solve – will enable us to deliver a new era in care.

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