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Can Consumers and Patients Be One in the Same?

March 26, 2019

In a recent post by Dr. Michael Hodgkins, AMA’s CMIO, he cited the consumerization of healthcare as one of three digital health trends that are transforming patient care. Earlier this month, Health Affairs ‘analyzes the ups and downs of expecting patients to act as consumers’. Further, the NEJM Catalyst Insights Council revealed that the majority (96%) of its members responding to a recent survey on patient engagement said that the healthcare industry has a lot to learn from consumer-facing industries.

Jennifer Sargent, Vera Whole Health

So, this past Valentine’s Day, I had the pleasure to host a day-long event at HIMSS Global Conference, sponsored by the Personal Connected Health Alliance (PCHAlliance).  The focus was consumerization in health.  I was pleased with the level of attendance and more so with the exceptional line-up of speakers and panelists curated by my colleagues at PCHAlliance.  It was a day full of fun, insights and differing points of view on the most important issues facing connected health right now.  The initial kick-off was by Jennifer Sargent who gave a talk that was a springboard for the entire day. Her presentation touched on the trends in workplace health, and the desire of employers to provide conveniences and support for employees, to help them stay on track with primary care needs — what she called ‘whole health engagement’. Jennifer also highlighted the successes Vera Whole Health has had in getting people to adhere to recommended therapies and show up for doctors’ appointments.

Panelists: Ron Hildebrandt, Chief Product Officer, Virgin Pulse, Tim Pantello, Managing Director, PwC USenior and Urvi Shah,Manager, Life Sciences and Health Care Practice, Deloitte Consulting

Panels moderated by Kaveh Safavi and Jane Sarasohn-Kahn followed.  There was a recurring theme of ‘What do we call recipients of healthcare’?  Interestingly, this debate has been going on for some time, with providers digging in their heels, insisting on ‘patients’ being the correct term.  ‘Consumers’ still generates some discomfort with many folks.  One panelist added a new twist, advocating for the term ‘customers!’.  While I understand the controversy between terms like patients (too paternalistic?) and consumers (too commercial?), I have not heard much of a groundswell for the term customers.  I’m really torn on this one.  I can’t separate the ‘new age’ me from the provider who relishes the special relationship I have with my patients.

The next panel was a standout, moderated by Sunita DesaiChex Yu presented some very interesting data on consumerization in health.  A JMP Chase Institute study of Chase customers and their out-of-pocket (OOP) healthcare spending habits illustrated the need to consider this when structuring healthcare options and payment options. Chex shared several important observations from this study, including:  high income families had the highest spending, but low income families had the highest burden of spending; people made larger healthcare payments when they had a higher ability to pay (thus people are foregoing care); and OOPs increase after tax refunds (thus people are delaying care until immediately after they get a refund). As a board member, I was pleased to hear Kristen Valdes’ perspective on how her company b.well is helping consumers aggregate and understand their health data.

Another theme of the day was the conundrum around data ownership and value.  Grace Cordovano’s panel discussed this in detail.  So many important questions were raised, but remain unresolved.  What is the best way to encourage data transparency for consumers?  How should we set values for consumer health data and create tools that allow individuals to share their information knowingly and gain some value for it? Thorny issues to be sure.  Maybe blockchain is part of the solution. I think it’s clear that the scales are currently tipped away from patients, in terms of deriving value from data, with monetization controlled firmly by longstanding commercial interests. I could also argue that if raw data means nothing, value can be derived when data is aggregated and analyzed with proprietary algorithms and made useful through interfaces designed for clinician or patient consumption.

Dr. Joe Kvedar at the Consumerization of Health event.

Now, admittedly, I am biased due to my unbridled enthusiasm for the power of patient-generated data to engage people and aid in behavior change, but I really enjoyed Drew Schiller’s afternoon keynote.  He shared several compelling stories of how folks who monitored their health data gained insights that allowed them to change behaviors and overcome barriers in the management of a chronic illness.  We’ve seen evidence of this at Partners Connected Health.  There is one small caveat: some individuals need a good chunk of external motivation to pay attention to those numeric trends served up by their wearable devices.

After that, the agenda focused more on emerging technologies. Jody Holtzman led a panel that talked about the power of robots in the context of aging, something I care deeply about and covered in my most recent book, The New Mobile Age.  This panel included a demonstration of ElliQ, a social robot, whose impact on attendees made the point that robots can be appealing and evocative. The field of social robots continues to evolve rapidly, and with each new entrant and form factor, seems to get closer and closer to the vision where these tools are a ubiquitous part of our lives.

Steve Mitchley from the Vitality Group gave a compelling talk on making prevention trendy, demonstrating it’s possible for preventive care to succeed and stick.

Steve Wretling, CTIO of HIMSS, led a provocative panel on the use of immersive technologies in health.  We heard from JoAnn Difede, Kyle Rand and Anthony Sossong, experts in virtual/mixed and augmented reality, on the latest evidence, consumer and healthcare trends, and the potential for immersive realities as tools for health promotion. The message across panelists was that devices have become better and more affordable, and they see VR as having real value in healthcare in the future. This group is doing some fascinating research in PTSD, overcoming social isolation/loneliness, and improving social skills. In fact, we believe this is such an important topic, we’ve already invited this panel to present at the 2019 Connected Health Conference in October.

Joy for All Companion robotic dog.

To cap the day, we staged an interview with Ted Fischer, CEO of Ageless Innovation. I had the pleasure of doing the interview and we were joined on stage by three robotic pets from Hasbro, Checkers the Cat, Socks, another cat, and Rover the dog.

Ted’s story fits in well with the panel led by Jody Holtzman.  The Joy For All Companion pets, simple but adorable/cuddly robotic pets that retail for about $100, play an important role in our efforts to combat social isolation and provide services to folks with mild cognitive impairment.  He was articulate and the pets were a boatload of fun!

Our day-long symposium focused on consumer behavior insights and the role digital health technologies can play in shaping a more pleasing and engaging experience of care. Our goal was to shed light on the drivers for change — from new insights and better decisions enabled by data science and artificial intelligence, to the science of behavior change and the urgent need to rethink health to care for an aging population.  No doubt, we have made great progress in putting the consumer at the center of their care. But we still have miles to go to achieve a future in which consumers and patients are one and the same.

What are your thoughts on how we can successfully create knowledgeable, empowered and engaged health consumers?

NOTE:  Much of the content from this event is a catalyst for our upcoming Connected Health Conference, where we will dig deeper into these critical issues. The 2019 theme is “Designing for Healthy Habits & Better Outcomes: Design. Data. Decisions.”  It is going to be our best yet.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 10, 2019 11:29 am

    Joe, thanks for your excellent summary of the PCHAlliance Symposium at the HIMSS 2019 Global Conference. The overall trends that you describe are similar in Europe, and there is an increasing focus on how to engage people in their own health through technology, from assessing and managing individual health risks, to improving the overall experience of medical care. With our largely ‘universal coverage’ healthcare systems, we don’t tend to use ‘consumer’ or ‘customer’ so much, preferring the description ‘patients’ when we are receiving medical interventions, and ‘citizens’ the rest of the time. There is certainly a widening gap between the immediacy and convenience experienced in many aspects of our digital lives, and the reality of today’s healthcare services, which have simply not kept pace. Some citizens are starting to switch to online medical consultation services to provide faster access to resolve concerns and to get advice, offered by companies such as Babylon and KRY. We also see more willingness from clinicians to interact with patients using various modes of telehealth. However none of these drivers alone appears sufficient to increase public awareness of what digital health can offer them. In the end, to increase the number of the ‘knowledgable, empowered and engaged’, we surely need to better understand motivation, and how make it easy for citizens to divert the right level of attention to their health. It is certainly an interesting journey, and I look forward to participating once again at Connected Health 2019 in Boston in October.

  2. April 10, 2019 5:03 pm

    thanks so much for the time and effort to post such a thoughtful comment!

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