Using technology to improve health care experiences and lower costs

At the center of the health care equation are patients and their clinicians. So, the most effective solutions are those that exist in service of that relationship, finding ways to get and give care that’s simple, proactive and personalized. Technology solutions increasingly allow partners in the health care model to improve care access and outcomes while reducing costs. For example, the ability to share data among parties in the health care ecosystem, advanced predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning all enable proactive and personalized health interventions and experiences. These solutions are enabling the digital transformation in health care.

“It’s almost hard to think of something today that isn’t digitally enabled in health care — everything from helping people to find care, or new ways to pay for care or get questions answered,” says Tracy Saula, SVP, Product and Health Experience at Highmark Health. “You can have a variety of virtual clinics, digital wellness, behavioral health solutions, examination tools and remote monitoring indicators all focused on making care more accessible and proactive.”

Smart Business spoke with Saula about how technology is improving patients’ ability to get health care.

How do technology solutions improve access to care?

There are a limited number of health care resources to meet demand. Technology solutions are helping to expand access by providing additional capacity through 24/7 virtual clinics where a person can engage with a health provider from their phone, or even through asynchronous texting with a clinician, enabling 24/7 access to doctors.

In rural and other hard-to-reach areas where health care access is more limited, technology solutions are helping to improve access to care through virtual specialist and second opinion programs that can help rural providers diagnose and treat their patients. These solutions leverage the expertise of specialists who otherwise might not be available in those areas.

In what ways do technology solutions improve patient care?

Technology solutions can extend clinicians’ reach and their ability to care for the health and wellness of their patients outside their office. They also provide clinicians with a richer set of data based on digital interactions, helping them determine better preventive management practices for chronic conditions to reduce emergency room visits and hospitalizations. It could even lead to shorter hospital stays if a person can be discharged from the hospital and monitored remotely at home. For example, congestive heart failure is the largest cause of hospital readmissions. The use of connected digital devices that can measure blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, weight and even activity can facilitate real-time monitoring and interactions between patients and their care team. That enables a proactivity and engagement that helps to maintain their health and avoid adverse outcomes.

How does the use of technology solutions affect the cost of health care?

The use of technology solutions to deliver care lowers the cost to administer that care compared to the cost of traditional brick-and-mortar, in-person care. Still, these technology solutions are just one aspect of the overall health care ecosystem. Traditional in-person care is still critical. But digital and virtual solutions are more cost effective for all involved. They result in healthier people, which lowers total costs. By offering, through technology, better and simpler experiences, along with more proactive engagement and personalized data, it can improve patient health, which then ultimately lowers the total cost of care.

As employers choose their health care plans, there are many technological solutions to consider. Many promise wonderful things, but can operate in a silo — for instance, a tool dedicated to managing diabetes but that can’t help a person address any other conditions. When that’s the case, the solution can be a barrier to care that adds costs and doesn’t make anybody healthier. It’s important for employers to be more discerning about their approach to digital health. Put the employee experience first. When that happens, employees engage with those tools, which results in better health and sustained affordability. ●

INSIGHTS Health Care is brought to you by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield

Tracy Saula

SVP, Product and Health Experience
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