These days, people are used to having just about everything at their fingertips. Health care is no exception.
(This commentary by Richard Migliori, M.D., executive vice president, Medical Affairs, and chief medical officer, UnitedHealth Group, originally appeared in the print edition of USA Today on Sept. 25 and is available online here).
Technology continues to change how Americans work and live, including when it comes to health care. New advances are reshaping how health care is paid for and delivered, putting access to information in our hands and creating a more seamless and interactive health care experience.
The technological revolution will absolutely play a role in open-enrollment season, which occurs during the fall, when millions of Americans will select or switch their health benefits for 2019. With that in mind, here are five digital health trends that consumers and business leaders should watch moving forward.
1. Mobile payments
Consumers want the same payment convenience for their health care as they have in the rest of their lives. The health care system is meeting that need by modernizing how people save and pay for care, including the addition of mobile payments and virtual assistants. More consumers are using mobile wallets such as Apple Pay® to pay for qualified medical services from a health savings account (HSA) with their mobile devices. Artificial intelligence and chatbot features also help consumers understand HSAs; people can ask virtual assistants such as AlexaTM or Google AssistantTM basic HSA questions like whether something is a qualified medical expense. Innovators in this space, such as Optum Bank, are creating apps and digital capabilities that offer a range of convenient features including digital receipt storage, mobile check deposit and investing options that help people keep track of qualified expenses and be prepared for health expenses now and in the future.
2. Wearable sensors
The wearable-technology market is booming, with revenues expected to reach nearly $52 billion by 2022, according to a 2017 report from MarketsandMarkets. These wearable devices can help people track their daily steps, monitor their heart rates and analyze sleep patterns. Employers and health plans are including fitness trackers as part of corporate wellness programs to help improve health outcomes and reduce health care costs.
For example, many of the world’s leading smartwatches and activity trackers are integrated into UnitedHealthcare Motion®, a national digital wellness initiative that may enable people to earn more than $1,000 per year by meeting certain daily walking goals. Employees may earn up to $4 per day for achieving FIT goals, which stands for frequency (500 steps within seven minutes, six times per day, at least an hour apart), intensity (at least 3,000 steps within 30 minutes) and tenacity (at least 10,000 total steps each day). When goals are reached, the earnings are typically deposited into the members’ HSA or health reimbursement account (HRA) to help cover out-of-pocket medical expenses.
3. Virtual care and remote medical monitoring
More consumers now have access to telemedicine services, a convenient and cost-effective resource that enables people to consult with a medical professional online or via smartphone apps for preventative care and certain treatments. Other remote services include wireless scales, which can notify health care professionals about a patient’s sudden weight fluctuations that could signal the need for immediate medical attention.
4. Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence and machine learning leverage troves of data to help improve the effectiveness and efficiency of health care services. The potential applications are wide-ranging, including closing gaps in care, eliminating unnecessary treatments and improving the speed and accuracy of customer service calls. In the future, artificial intelligence will be increasingly deployed to predict and prevent disease before someone is afflicted; understand what facilities or physicians produce the best outcomes for a specific condition; and engage patients so they receive care in a timely manner.
Blockchain technology has significant potential for health care, and some of those possible uses are already being tested by leading health care companies. A blockchain records and shares database transactions securely and cooperatively across multiple computers. It provides a synchronized “source of truth” that can help automate processes and may improve the integrity of health care information, reducing data reconciliation costs and easing administrative burdens. Blockchains may be used to store and share health data, which may make it easier for people to navigate the health system.