Today, in virtually every industry, consumers rule the roost. They can go online and order anything they need – from banking services to airline tickets, groceries to rental cars – from the comfort of their homes. Why not healthcare?

“The traditional care model of making a 15-minute appointment to see a doctor two to four weeks out is fading,” says Robin Hill, vice president of clinical services at Vivify health, a fast-growing international digital health company. “Consumers want convenience in healthcare just as they have it in other industries. More and more, their expectations are driving new care delivery models.” She notes that retailers are offering on-site clinics, and “Docs-in-the-Box” – urgent care centers – are popping up throughout the country to meet the demands that a 9-to-5 healthcare system can’t satisfy. Meanwhile, consumer electronics are opening doors to delivering care in a completely different way.

Shifting the patient perspective from passive to active

In the past, patients have been passive recipients of healthcare, Hill points out. But the rise in high-deductible health insurance plans is pushing consumers to take a more active role in their health and wellbeing. As they shoulder more and more of the healthcare cost burden, they are increasingly aware of the need for more vigilant self care. A recent study found that 91 percent of consumers want to be more proactive in managing their health. “Along with providers, consumers are seeking cost efficiency, preventive solutions, and overall value in the care experience,” Hill says. “They’re aligned with the aim of staying out of high-cost, acute care environments. Remote care management technologies can help achieve that goal.”

Returning to the days of old – with a new twist

A Harris survey found that 64 percent of consumers are willing to have a video visit with a doctor. Reasons cited include gaining convenience, saving time and money, avoiding germs that lurk in hospitals and clinics, and enjoying the luxury of staying at home when they’re ill.

“Healthcare is finally coming into its own in the digital age, engaging consumers through videoconferencing technology, wireless personal health devices, and tablets and smart phones,” Hill says. “It’s as though we’re going back to the olden days when doctors made house calls. But now, rather than physically going into the home, clinicians are visiting virtually.”

Reading the consumer forecast

What do healthcare consumers want? According to Hill, “immediate care. They don’t want to wait in an emergency room.” Where do they want it? “At home or on the go,” she says. Because high-risk and high-cost populations – those with two or more chronic diseases – are typically technologically wary, they need to have a personal tool they can use naturally and intuitively, she explains. The most successful remote care management technologies are expressly designed with the consumer in mind, Hill notes. They are:

  • Simple, providing ease of use by patients of any age and technology understanding
  • Flexible, enabling providers to customize care plans for any patient with any clinical condition
  • Fast, connecting patients to their care team seamlessly in near-real time
  • Collaborative, facilitating care coordination between professional caregivers, patient family members, and patients
  • Educational, offering video content that continuously educates patients to better understand, and proactively address, their health issues

Surveying the horizon

A scan of the industry horizon finds patients with varying health conditions at the center of remote care management programs. For example:

  • Alignment Healthcare, a population health management company headquartered in Orange, California, uses remote care monitoring as an integrated part of its medical command center to track the health status of its highest-risk Medicare patients. As a result, at any point in time, the care team knows which patients need additional attention.
  • The Hearts at Home program at Children’s Hospital of Alabama provides home monitoring and support for babies with congenital heart disease.
  • The Virtual Care Check at Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas, monitors patients who suffer from complex chronic diseases, as well as those discharged with such diagnoses as heart failure, heart attack, and pneumonia.
  • UPMC, an integrated health care provider and insurer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, uses remote care management for palliative care and heart failure patients. Soon, it will be expanding its remote care program across the enterprise for a variety of chronic conditions.

Riding the perfect storm

Healthcare is often perceived as being “late to the party” in adopting digital solutions. But today, the increasing accessibility and affordability of wireless technologies and health devices, the precipitous rise of consumerism, and the unabated surge in out-of-pocket healthcare costs have signaled a new way forward. “It’s a perfect storm of potential for growing the digital health industry,” Hill says.

“The tools are here, and consumers will increasingly demand them. Healthcare organizations that will benefit the most from these converging forces will recognize the criticality of health behavior as a value driver – and will pursue the opportunity to partner with patients in delivering high-quality, cost-effective care.” Acting today to incorporate these technology innovations can be a perfect opportunity, she says, for creating a stronger, more efficient, more consumer-centric healthcare system.

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