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Vol 19, No. 10, October 2015   |   Issue PDF view/purchase
Carving the Digital Route to Wellness
Transmit your blood sugar results from a digital glucose monitor. Snap a photo of your breakfast to capture calorie intake. Upload your most recent weight reading and record the number of steps walked. Once completed, receive an instant fitness report on your mobile device. No, this isn’t a TV programme scenario from “Doctor Who”. It’s a reality for an increasing number of healthcare consumers.

Consumer technologies such as wearables have the capacity to encourage behavioural changes in healthcare. The global wearable medical devices market is estimated to be worth US$5.8 billion by 2019, almost triple than that in 2012 , with Asia Pacific projected to be the fastest growing mHealth market during 2015-2020 .

Evidently, how individuals interact with the healthcare system is radically changing the face of the healthcare industry. The proliferation of technology advances and consumer gadgets; e.g wearable activity monitors including Fitbit and Jawbone, at-home medical devices such as glucose and blood pressure monitors, and mobile transmission of all types of consumer and business data are motivating people to embrace healthier behaviours in their diet and exercise, and promoting better sleeping habits. These interactions, referred to as “connected health,” are often touted as the tonic for achieving healthcare’s triple aim: reduced cost, improved quality of care, and enhanced patient experiences, as consumers take more responsibility for their care.

It would be insufficient, however, to focus solely on consumers’ self-directed interactions with these powerful and smart devices. The bigger and more important story is told by the vast volumes of data that healthcare consumers are generating with their wearables, devices, smartphones, applications (apps), Web searches and more—personal and persistent collections of digital data that surround people, organizations and devices, what we call “Code Halos”.

So far, much of the market is overlooking the essential processes of analysing a patient’s Code Halo to uncover hidden insights and meaning, and then acting on those findings with real-time, individualized responses. Yet, these data-fuelled interactions are instrumental for the healthcare industry to achieve its goals, as these engagements will encourage individuals to adopt and maintain more effective health practices, be it to sustain their health and engage in preventive care or to better manage a chronic condition.

Maximizing Advantage from BYOhD

More than ever, individuals are empowered to manage their own healthcare. These “activated” patients have the tools to collect data on vital signs, genetics, health history, fitness levels, activity levels, body-mass index, sleep patterns and more. All of the data generated by “Bring Your Own healthcare Devices” (BYOhD) is becoming part of an individual’s Code Halo. These activated consumers offer a glimpse of the healthcare industry’s future: smart mobile tools, greater individual accountability for health management, reduced medical spending, and more importantly, better health. Contrast these individuals with passive consumers, who only consult healthcare professionals after a problem develops, fail to fill prescriptions and neglect to follow the latest information on their conditions.

While self-monitoring is an improvement over passivity, it doesn’t sustain behavioural changes single-handedly. The missing piece is real-time, high-touch interactions, such as personalized coaching which is exactly what the industry needs to offer as a complement to the high-tech data collection model. These interactions drive meaningful engagement that sustains patient behavioural changes, increases quality of care, and improves the customer experience while lowering costs.

Under this engagement model, the following changes will be possible in the next few years:

  • Individuals will interact with passive/virtual and active/live coaches whenever needed, instead of intermittent doctor visits, leading to reduced hospital admissions.
  • Health education will improve, with educational data pushed to individuals based on their current health or condition and personality type.
  • Passive data collection and transparency, in addition to coaching, will increase adherence to prescriptions, fitness and therapy regimens.
  • Patients will be able to consult with doctors remotely via telehealth and mMobile platforms
  • Patients will join a nurturing ecosystem that provides encouragement and motivation.

The right platform will combine motivation, ability and triggers — three interlocking pieces that will ensure that patients sustain new, different and better behaviours.

Achieving Meaningful Patient Engagement via Connected Health

Equipped with these insights, the next step is to build a connected health platform that integrates the following features to achieve successful, sustainable engagement:

  • Analytics. Collect the BYOhD data that consumers are willing to share from virtually any device via the platform—the healthcare organizations don’t need to be thinking about operating system and device differences. Use an analytics engine to decipher the meaning created at the intersections of these Code Halos, leveraging this meaning to power all interactions. For instance, automatic upload of data such as self-reported food consumption, a real-time blood sugar reading and the number of steps taken in a given timeframe can reveal how well a patient is managing a condition. Analytics also determines what kind of coaching and or intervention will be most effective for the patient’s profile. The analytics engine continually monitors the data streams to trigger necessary alerts and notifications to patients and/or coaches. Coaches can then initiate proactive wellness programs to prevent patients from falling into high risk categories.
  • Patient activation. Understand the various patient segments and their motivation triggers, so as to determine optimal interactions and incentives. Some consumers are motivated by team-based challenges, while others are inspired by immediate feedback. Some patients are satisfied with intrinsic rewards (receiving a badge for attaining a new fitness level) while others look for extrinsic value (a free device for reaching a specific level or winning a department lunch). Gamification can be used to coach the consumer about medical and prescription adherence, vitals monitoring, diet and fitness management and patient education.
  • Coaching. Virtual and live coaches actively participate in the patient’s journey, facilitating instead of dictating care, by helping patients set and track goals, which also proactively prompts interventions when needed. This personal reinforcement, informed by analytics, helps patients gain the knowledge, skills and confidence to manage their own healthcare effectively.

Closing the Circuit for Empowered Healthcare Consumers

Healthcare institutions must engage patients beyond the doctor’s office to achieve the improvements necessary to support emerging pay-for-performance or value-based care models. Interactions can range from daily smartphone app reminders and tips, to weekly calls from a remote nurse or coach to set goals and overcome challenges, to real-time alerts from a virtual coach about maintaining blood sugar levels or low-cost generic drugs. Many of these interactions initially will be with healthcare consumers who are already activated and generating patient Code Halos.

By digitally transforming how consumers interact with the healthcare system with the engagement framework similar to the one detailed above, healthcare providers can truly transform and help individuals better manage and monitor their health, leading to higher levels of engagement, better outcomes and lower costs, while representing an opportunity for healthcare players to step forward and match individuals’ efforts to manage and be accountable for their health.

About the Author

By Sundaresan Subramanian, Senior Vice President and Global Delivery Head—Healthcare, Cognizant

Mr. Sundar Subramanian, an industry veteran with over 23 years’ global experience in IT and consulting, is Senior Vice President and Global Delivery Head of Cognizant’s Healthcare practice. He is responsible for service delivery to clients across the healthcare spectrum — payers, providers, pharmacy benefit management companies, intermediaries and ISVs providing software products to healthcare companies.

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