Providers try to catch up with patient expectations.

Lori Bahnmueller 12/21/17 - 8:34 pm

Providers try to catch up with patient expectations.

Consumers are becoming increasingly discerning healthcare customers. They’ve always cared about access and benefits. But now that consumers are paying more, they’re paying more attention. They’re researching, comparing providers and socializing healthcare experiences like never before.

The healthcare industry is responding in kind, scrambling for meaningful differentiators that lead to consumer preference. We look back at some of the innovative ways—big and small—that providers and insurers attempted to catch up with consumer expectations in 2017.

Mail order DNA results.

DNA tests are no longer reserved for daytime talk show drama. Brands like 23anMe and Genealogica now offer the genetically curious relatively quick access to DNA insights that can inform a healthier lifestyle. For $199 and a saliva sample, consumers can bypass a doctor or genetic counselor.

Many kits can provide a comprehensive genetic picture, 23andMe won FDA approval in the spring to test for predisposition to 10 diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and celiac diseases.

“This is an important moment for people who want to know their genetic health risks and be more proactive about their health,” said Anne Wojcicki, the CEO and co-founder of 23andMe, in a company press release.

Whether consumers are acting on results is yet unknown, but there’s ample space for healthcare brands to connect the dots. Morgan Stanley is partnering with Genealogica and to offer the bank’s private wealth management clients a custom service. The end product is a deeply rooted family tree cast in print and video meant to inspire the next generation to preserve its wealth.

The patientization of health care.

The typical doctor-patient relationship is limited to the confines of an exam room. Doctor diagnoses patient’s condition or health state, dispenses treatment or advice and it’s “peace out” until the next appointment months or years later. The patient is left to her own druthers to manage her health in the meantime.

It’s never been an ideal scenario. But in the age of preventive medicine, fueled by the Internet of Medical Things, fitness trackers and electronic medic records, it’s practically primitive.

“The health care system is striving to meet patient expectations outside the clinical setting,” says Doctella Co-Founder and Surgeon, Adil Haider MD, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School. “Currently, verbal or paper instructions, a quick call from the doctor or a brief visit are considered state of the art methods for managing patients, outside a hospital or after they leave a clinic.”

To improve two-way communications between doctor and patient, scientists at Patient Doctor Technologies, Inc., launched Doctella last fall. Doctella is a digital health studio that allows medical professionals to create apps specific to individual practices and patients, sans developers. The studio integrates with platforms like HealthKit, CareKit and Google Fit that may already be on patients’ phones.

Patients can share info to track outcomes and vitals, monitor pain and prescriptions, and more. Data is analyzed in an ongoing manner to shape alerts and reminders for both patients and doctors.

The Doctella Digital Health Studio operates on a Freemium model, available online for doctors to design “CarePrograms” using templates, or alongside Doctella “digital health experts.” The system integrates with giant electronic health record platforms like Epic and Cerner, as well as scheduling software.

Hypertension is redefined, and the news isn’t great for Americans.

The number of Americans with high blood pressure jumped from 32 percent to 46 percent after a panel of leading healthcare associations declared 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) to be the new threshold. The former threshold was 140/90 mm Hg.

Trials testing the changes found that lowering blood pressure to normal levels, rather than simply to just under 140/90, significantly reduced the risk of heart failure, heart attack and stroke in patients.

“We’re recognizing that blood pressures that we, in the past, thought were normal, or so-called pre-hypertensive, actually placed the patient at significant risk for heart disease and death and disability,” said former American College of Cardiology president Richard Chazal. “The risk hasn’t changed. What’s changed is our recognition of the risk.”

Authors of the study recommend lifestyle changes as the first line of treatment. Expect patients to gear up with fitness trackers, blood pressure monitors and leafy green vegetables—maybe. Either way, the new guidelines mean opportunity for providers and insurers to surround patients with guidance and improved access.

Tech that makes it harder to ignore health risks.

Klick Health is working on technology that creates the feeling of having certain diseases, like COPD ((a lung disease that results in difficulty breathing and a persistent cough, and is sometimes caused by smoking cigarettes).

“Direct experience of future symptoms could potentially change the course of someone’s unhealthy habits,” said John Brownstein, a Harvard professor, in an interview with In the instance of smokers, a COPD simulation may offer incentive to kick the habit.

Consumers turning to Alexa for health advice and emotional support.

In addition to commanding Alexa (the voice of the Amazon Echo) to perform tasks, consumers confide in her. Some people even share thoughts of suicide and domestic abuse problems with Alexa. So Amazon is refining her ability to respond appropriately to distressing questions and comments.

Amazon estimates that more than half of all interactions with Alexa are “non-utilitarian and entertainment related,” which covers an emotional landscape ranging from “Alexa, I love you,” to “Alexa, I’m lonely,” according to a story published on in October.

Alexa can’t prevent a suicide or call the paramedics if someone is having a heart attack; she can encourage them to call 911 or a suicide-prevention hotline. Or she may provide a more nuanced approach: If an individual says he’s depressed, Alexa replies that she knows depression is a human emotion and suggests talking to a friend or family member.

Additional health care trends that caught our attention in 2017 prompted the following blogs:

Blog Category: Digital Insights & Trends

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