Global Investor: Reshaping Patient Care Bit by Bit
So far, the healthcare sector has held back from digitalization, but it is about to change.
Expenditure on healthcare is rising rapidly in developed and emerging economies. People are paying more money not only because they can afford it, but also because healthcare gains in importance as prosperity increases.
Digitalization is playing an increasingly important role in the effort to optimize treatment and costs. Until now, the healthcare sector has been rather reserved in terms of how it has utilized the potential offered by digitalization. However, digitalization is now starting to make its mark on this sector too: Remote patient monitoring, telemedicine, and portals offering medical advice are all services that are fundamentally changing healthcare.
Remote Monitoring Reduces the Number of Emergency Cases
Remote patient monitoring is a particularly impressive example of the advantages this technological progress can offer. For instance, the US company Vivify Health has developed such monitoring system for patients who are at risk of heart failure – a disease that costs the US healthcare service around USD 40 billion each year. Almost half of this amount is spent on hospital stays. Vivify now offers a solution that continuously records the patient's condition, allowing doctors to identify any deterioration in health in good time. In a pilot project, Vivify has already demonstrated an impressive reduction in the number of hospital stays and visits to the doctor required by patients with this heart condition. Expensive emergency treatments have decreased by as much as 70 percent.
Telemedicine Saves Money
Medical advice over the phone is another example of a service enabled by the new technology. In Switzerland, health insurance companies have been offering this kind of support to their policyholders for several years now. Policyholders receive advice from an in-house expert. The health insurance company therefore saves money by cutting down unnecessary doctor's appointments.
In the US, there is a "Doctor On Demand" service, providing online medical advice. Assuming that the program reduces visits to the doctor by a third, the savings potential would be over USD 30 billion. Programs like this not only help to reduce costs, but they are also a solution for patients with restricted mobility or those in remote areas – especially in less developed economies.
All Thanks to Technological Progress
Thanks to technological progress medical monitoring devices are becoming more compact and therefore more versatile. One development that is considerably improving quality of life of patients with diabetes is the concept of Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM). With the help of a sensor, diabetics can continuously monitor their blood sugar level, allowing them to detect danger faster and reduce the frequency of blood tests. And yet this is just the beginning. It is only a matter of time until the first artificial pancreas – a CGM device connected to an insulin pump – becomes available on the market.
Better Medical Knowledge
With the development of information platforms such as WebMD, users have more opportunities to improve their medical knowledge and thus take better care of their health. However, although these platforms offer many benefits, the associated disadvantages appear to outweigh them.
For example, the information provided by these services can mean that the patient already has a fixed diagnosis in mind, and therefore expects a certain type of treatment. In minor cases, this situation increases the time that it takes for the doctor to explain a diagnosis; in more serious cases, it can lead to unnecessary examinations or even dangerous attempts at self-medication. For this reason, medical advice more suited for the internet, would be advice about illness prevention.
The Dawn of a New Era
Healthcare professionals are convinced that we are seeing the dawn of a new era. Digitalization offers excellent efficiency gains and significant benefits across the entire value chain. Careful implementation can benefit everyone: patients, doctors, nursing staff, hospitals, and health insurance companies. However, it is essential that the use of digital devices is always accompanied by advice from a medical professional.