Chronic disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States, impacting 60% of adults (40% have two or more chronic conditions). These conditions account for 90% of the country’s massive $3.5 trillion healthcare spend.
However, innovations in healthcare technology have generated hope that connected health solutions can help reduce the burden or manage chronic conditions, inject new efficiency in the system, and help reduce the cost of healthcare. The combination of connected devices, data analytics, automation, and virtual care – all part of connected health environments – can have a positive impact on management of chronic conditions.
Let’s look at diabetes, one of the most prevalent chronic conditions in the country. More than 10% of the population has diabetes and, more than twice that amount have prediabetes. There are many health factors related to diabetes, including obesity, high blood pressure, heart conditions, and more. With access to new technologies that can be implemented on both patient and provider sides of the relationship, it may be possible to create better outcomes for patients and reduce risks associated with diabetes and other chronic conditions.
Several trends are pointing to an opportunity for the healthcare industry to leverage connected health tools to treat chronic conditions.
Remote patient monitoring devices that measure blood glucose levels, blood pressure, heart rates, weight, activity levels, sleep patterns, and more, can provide valuable information to providers. With this data, physicians can better understand changing patient conditions, response to treatment or medication, and even alert them when patients aren’t following treatment plans. This data can help more effectively manage conditions and patients’ overall health but can also allow physicians to react quickly if the data shows unexpected changes, to prevent serious complications. In addition, the same data can support medical research and population health initiatives.
The potential benefits of connected health have been widely promoted over the past several years, including increasing efficiency, reducing costs, driving positive outcomes, increasing access to care, supporting new healthcare models and more. One of the challenges has been acceptance, limiting its impact. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, acceptance and use of connected health tools were already increasing – particularly the use of tools to support remote care, including virtual visits and remote patient monitoring. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, there has been even greater acceptance, with providers viewing telehealth more favorably and being more comfortable using it than previously.
One of the other challenges has been insurance coverage. Patients and providers, alike, are less likely to use alternative care models that aren’t covered – providers need to get paid, and patients don’t want to pay more out of pocket than necessary. Payors are starting to recognize the benefits of connected health and are developing new strategies for integrating it into their models. Several have already integrated connected health into their models after seeing increased demand and positive results, including Kaiser Permanente and Oscar, which have introduced virtual-first healthcare programs; Cigna, which is promoting digital tools as part of its mental health coverage; and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, which has made its telehealth services permanent.
Considering the disproportionate effort and money that goes into treating chronic conditions, it should be a key target for improvements to care delivery. The combination of evolving technology and increased acceptance by the healthcare community are signs that the healthcare ecosystem is starting to move in the right direction. By increasing its use of connected health tools, the healthcare community can help resolve many of the challenges that have plagued the system for years, while also improving patient outcomes.
To learn more about why connected health is the future of healthcare, connect with us here.