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2016 Connected Health Trends: High-Touch Digital Care

Infographic-Doctors-Prescribing-More-Mobile-Apps

As one would assume would be the case, many of the Connected Health trends are about connecting to the patient when they are not in the care setting. All of them are, in fact. However, this trend finds us trying to instill a good bedside manner into digital care.

Over the past year the terms “digital clinic” and “outpatient hospital” have grown in popularity. The momentum around digital therapeutics is taking us towards a future where in the next ten years doctors will be prescribing digital programs to treat depression, insomnia, kidney stones, and lower back pain via a completely immersive digital experience. The CEO of AthenaHealth has even been quoted as saying that “the lion’s share of routine healthcare will be … managed online. I’m sure of it.”

What the growing popularity of Connected Health tells us is that, more and more, care is occurring outside of the brick and mortar. This is an exciting time as care outside of the traditional care setting offers us opportunities to both decrease the cost of care, increase the quality of care, and afford patients the comfort of not having illness completely alter their lifestyle. However, care outside of the brick and mortar brings some obvious challenges. How do you take an industry that, until relatively recently, existed largely on paper and create an infrastructure that offers a good bedside manner remotely? Enter the world of “high touch digital”.

High-Touch Digital Delivered Daily

There are many tactics that a health system can employ in order to increase high touch care by way of digital device. Here are three that can be employed as a low cost accompaniment to any digital health program:

  • Phone Therapy: We will start with the least digital of all means with the telephone. We start here in order to demonstrate that high touch digital care need not be complicated or expensive. Therapies provided over the phone, and also virtual visit by way of the patient portal, offer healthcare providers to treat the anxieties of some of the most vulnerable patient populations. For example, in a study conducted by Wake Forest University, 141 people over the age of 60 living in rural counties in North Carolina who were experiencing excessive and uncontrollable worry due to generalized anxiety disorder. The participants had up to 11 phone sessions between January 2011 and October, 2013. Half of them received cognitive behavioral therapy, which focused on the recognition of anxiety symptoms, relaxation techniques, problem solving and other coping techniques. The other study participants got a less intensive phone therapy in which mental health professionals provided support for participants to discuss their feelings but offered no suggestions for coping. The researchers found that severity of the patients’ the symptoms of anxiety and depression decreased in both groups, but the patients getting cognitive therapy had a significantly higher reduction of symptoms from generalized anxiety disorder and depressive symptoms. The challenge with phone therapy is that we still face reimbursement barriers in the world of digitized medicine. Medicare has stringent requirements for eligibility for phone therapies. However, this tide will continue to shift as more evidence, such as was found in this study, show that phone therapy provides a good alternative to drugs that are often prescribed for anxiety and depression but can make seniors sleepy and disoriented and lead to injuries.
  • Text Messaging Programs: I am a long term proponent of text messaging programs (as shown here and here and especially here). Text messaging programs have offered an effective means to decrease diabetes patients’ reliance on the ER as a primary method of care, increase maternal health education throughout pregnancy and through to the first year of new life, increase the effectiveness of smoking cessation programs, and significantly reduce readmissions for the “sickest of the sick” post-op heart care patients. Even more important, text messaging programs offer the opportunity to bridge the digital divide as, while these programs have proven effective across all socioeconomic groups, the wins are even higher among low income groups.
  • Social Media as a Population Health Tool: There was a time not too long ago where you would be hard pressed to find healthcare organizations with active social media investments. Those times have changed. Organizations are also, fortunately, moving away from an era where social media outlets have been used for traditional public relations purposes. Instead, social media is now sitting in its rightful place as a population health tool. As Perficient clients like Marshfield Clinic, Forest Health, and, more recently, Cedars Sinai, have realized is that social media can sit at the heart of an organization’s drive towards better population health by 1) converting unknown consumers into patients and 2) using social media as a means to disseminate health education.

Have any other examples of high touch digital you wish to share? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.

High-Touch Digital Care is just one of the trends we explore in our new guide, The Definitive Guide to Connected Health 2016: 10 Trends You Need to Know. Download the guide to see where this trend falls and to discover the other Connected Health trends healthcare executives must be aware of. In the guide we also provide insights to help organizations not only survive – but thrive – in the age of consumer-driven healthcare.

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