Top Three Digital Trends Moving Healthcare

In my last column I focused on an important point to remember as we headed off to our big annual tradeshow, HIMSS (the Health Information Management Systems Society).  That key point of the day: Digital healthcare technology should be used to serve the patient and the healthcare provider—not to use technology just for the sake of showing that we can. HIMSS is where Health IT elites gather to share best practices and prepare for the coming year, and it has grown so large that only five convention centers in the U.S. can contain it (almost 40,000 people attended this year).

Attending HIMSS is a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of the digital healthcare revolution, so I thought it would be appropriate to share three dominant trends that we observed both at HIMSS and almost everywhere we turn, including our take on what these trends mean for the life science marketer over the coming year.

Portals to Patient Engagement?

More than any other theme at this year’s HIMSS conference, patient engagement was front and center. There was an entire “community” and educational track dedicated to the “Connected Patient,” and another dedicated to “mHealth,” with much of that content focused on patients using mobile technology to facilitate better care. And while mobile devices, patient portals and wearable devices all enjoyed their time in the spotlight, two key facts remained painfully apparent: First, that changing the behavior of patients is one of the hardest challenges facing healthcare providers, health systems, insurers and almost anyone that makes their living from the healthcare system. And second, that unless we improve in our ability to change those behaviors, nothing else really matters.

I point this out because it is very easy for us to casually toss around phrases like “patient engagement” without really thinking about the enormity of the task at hand. It is frankly much harder to get someone to drop a bad habit or pick up a good one than it is to convince him or her to try some new cologne or purchase a new gadget.

Healthcare marketing is much harder than we often acknowledge, and if you’re reading this you may want to give yourself a little pat on the back because you signed up to not only “engage” a patient in management of their own health, but also to convince them to undergo a transformation that will alter their very existence. This is heady, challenging stuff and not a task for the faint of heart or those lacking in imagination. You should walk a little taller down the halls of your company when you think about what it is you do every day. Like it or not, you are charged not with marketing a drug or device, but with changing human behavior.

The Rise of Digital Support and Education

No outcome, no income. This is a phrase we heard more than once during HIMSS, and it’s the future for not only healthcare systems and providers, but increasingly for life science marketers as well. The days of fee-for-service medicine are fading in the face of climbing costs and tight budgets, and payers (including the largest payer, government) will demand that you be measured on more than just the cost of the pill you offer.

We see this as leading to product offerings that include more than just the drug, and in which programs that support both the patient and the healthcare provider through additional resources (think education that helps to change behavior, support programs, dosing and titration tools, etc.) will become key additions to the actual pharmaceutical, biologic or device product.

You can expect these support initiatives to be delivered digitally in many cases, due both to the lower cost of delivery possible through digital channels but also—at some future point—because of the need to revise and update these programs faster than is possible with physical materials. We also foresee a need for regulatory teams and even government reviewers to increase their speed of throughput, simply to keep up with the demands of the healthcare environment as it seeks to drive better outcomes within a controlled cost structure.

A Tool for Better Outcomes

That’s where EMR comes in—it is becoming central and essential to delivering against the challenges of patient engagement and outcome-driven care. Almost 80% of providers are already using electronic medical records to some extent, and a majority of prescriptions are now generated electronically. And as providers seek to deliver against increasingly challenging goals that impact their livelihoods, we can all but guarantee that they will make ample use of the one digital tool that accompanies them as they see patients all day. Already, employers and payers use this tool to measure the quality of care HCPs deliver through a variety of means (think clinical quality measures and readmission rates for just two examples), so you can expect these same HCPs to demand more from this tool as well.

This is as an exceptional opportunity for life science companies, and those who lead in digital innovation and point of care offerings, who now will have an advantage as the EMR becomes the primary tool for HCP engagement, and through those HCPs, for engaging with patients. Life science companies will likely find themselves in multiple roles as this unfolds, serving as content providers and resource sponsors, and perhaps working in cooperation with payers and health systems to develop and deliver these tools.

So there you have it: Our view of three trends that are shaping the future of not only digital health, but also healthcare at its very core. These trends present challenges unlike any seen in the past, but they also highlight opportunities unlike any seen by our industry predecessors.

  • Mark Heinold

    Mark Heinold is CEO of PDR, the largest EMR and digital communications network. PDR connects prescribers, pharmacists and patients to improve health outcomes through targeted communications, and is the publisher of the renowned Physicians Desk Reference. PDR delivers health information designed to positively improve health behaviors through a variety of digital, office-based and pharmacy-based channels.

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