Consumerism in health care driven by connected technology

In health care, the aspects are quite similar, driven by health care quality, accessibility and cost, with holistic wellbeing as the desired outcome.

By Sureshkumar Rajasekar

Consumer-led health care transformation: There are three aspects to traditional consumerism – a greater consumption of goods and services, a need for constant consumption and the protection of consumers’ rights – driven by convenience and lifestyle.

In health care, the aspects are quite similar, driven by health care quality, accessibility and cost, with holistic wellbeing as the desired outcome.

With the flow of healthcare data and information shifting from being unidirectional to becoming bidirectional, health care is edging closer towards increased consumerism. The focus is incrementally on being a decision-making stakeholder in one’s own health care journey, regarding mode of access to care, choice of care provider, treatment options available, personalization, flexible options for payment, and more. Health care consumers are leveraging information and technology to become aware of the choices available to them, to make informed and practical decisions, both pertaining to care within and without the clinical environment.

For example, today, people want to be able to make an appointment with their doctor, access lab test results, seek treatment and receive their medication as easily as they can conduct financial transactions online with pricing transparency and have products delivered to them at a location of their choice.

Sureshkumar Rajasekar, Vice President Technology, Optum Global Solutions (India) Pvt. Ltd.

The pandemic has fostered health care consumerism

COVID-19 has reminded us of the importance and advantages of prevention, promoting wellness as opposed to treating sickness and the criticality of timely intervention. This is driving a different set of behaviors and expectations in society that will drastically change the health care sector.

A big part of this ongoing change is not only the acceptance but prevalence of virtual health care delivery, including telemedicine.

As per a digital health consumer survey, 41% of gen Z and 33% of millennials favor virtual health care over in-person care, as opposed to older generations. It is these younger generations’ preferences that will define the future of health care.

Technology trends fueling the rise of consumerism in health care

Today, the health care consumer is powered by rapid advances in wearable technology and connectivity. There are wearable micro sensors, smart watches and mobile devices that can track daily steps, sleep habits, nutrition, heart rate, blood pressure, and other health parameters. These IoT devices present tremendous potential as their accuracy and reliability is improved.

Advanced audio/video technologies play a key role in connecting patients and providers in a modernized virtual care setting, with seamless integration with electronic health records (EHRs). Not only does this render care delivery to become location-agnostic but it also brings down the cost of care.

AI chatbot solutions are also making their presence felt in health care. This is because they bring in several benefits for today’s consumers, such as anonymity, personalization, real-time responses and solutions and quick information gathering. The most common areas where chatbots are being utilized in health care are scheduling medical appointments, handling insurance inquiries, prescription refills, reminders and notifications, data collection and more.

Affordable health care is achievable through platforms and most importantly through how these platforms interact and interconnect with each other, allowing free flow of pertinent data, enabling patient-centric solutions.

Key considerations for global health care organizations

The best indicator of the changing health care landscape is the growth of digital health investment and market. Medical device manufacturers are increasingly ensuring all new devices have connectivity, something that stood at 60% in 2019 and is expected to go up to 80% by 2025.

Providers are investing in revamping their infrastructure to support seamless data flow within the premise. Significant incentives are provided by governments across the globe, encouraging digital adoption like electronic health records. The recently announced PM-Digital Health Mission is a big leap in this direction, where the Indian government is looking at seamless data flow and exchange, enabling digital health.

To meet new consumer expectations, health care institutions will need to adopt consumer-centric models and technology solutions focused on education and transparency, with streamlined communications and advanced payment processing.

The way forward for personalized, connected health

Confluence of digital health and breakthroughs in genomics will shape the future of health care, which will be more focused on precision health and therapy and more importantly preventive health.

Health care is undergoing major transformation, adopting advances in digital technologies, artificial intelligence and genomics. This is also a sector that is driven by a strong purpose of helping people live healthier lives. It is a dream come true for any technologist to be part of such a transformational journey, which is also coupled with a solid purpose.

To conclude, consumerism in most segments goes through the phases of differentiation, affordability, followed by quality and reliability. In case of health care, it starts with access when in need, quality of outcome and finally cost. The more you hear about differentiation through quality of outcome and cost, the stronger is the indication of rise in consumerism in health care, which is a good trend!

(The author is Vice President Technology, Optum Global Solutions (India) Pvt. Ltd. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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