Among the various industries transforming with new technology, healthcare might just be the one that holds the most exciting future. A multitude of startups and innovation accelerators are disrupting the healthcare landscape at a number of levels, from devices that speed up testing processes, to the streamlining of hospital administration. The future of healthcare is full of promise for better care at every level.
The longstanding conservative view has been that the United States is spending too much on healthcare and needs to cut back in a major way. Now that Republicans control the White House and Congress, we may see these cuts vigorously pushed through legislature. Something for decisionmakers to consider is the impact of new digital technologies and how they can go a long way towards reducing healthcare spending, without reducing the level of care.
Healthcare spending, whether by the government, private industry, or individuals, is most easily reduced with healthier lifestyle choices and preventative care, rather than pricy interventions when things have gone wrong. There are now many different ways in which preventative care has been improved. If properly integrated, these small applications can lead to lower healthcare spending across the board.
It may seem obvious, but medication adherence failure (forgetting/neglecting to take medication) is a serious problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that non-adherence causes 30 to 50 percent of chronic disease treatment failure and is responsible for 125,000 deaths every year in the U.S. Not only that, a mere 51 percent of patients taking medications for high blood pressure continue to take their medication during long-term treatment. These failures mean care is extended unnecessarily and costs pile up due to easily preventable circumstances.
An easy fix that is already being utilized by a number of patients are phone apps that not only give reminders to take medications, but report to doctors when they are taken, to ensure care will continue to work. Medisafe, to give one example, also connects pharmaceutical companies to see how their medications are being taken and provides feedback on user habits, potentially improving implementation in the future. A change that can provide benefits to both businesses and consumers is one that government leaders will surely be eager to learn more about.
The most costly patients are those suffering from chronic diseases, for example, diabetes. Estimated to afflict nearly 10 percent of the entire U.S. population, diabetes costs have reached over $100 billion, highest among the 155 most widespread chronic conditions in the country. On the corporate side, the average diabetic employee costs his or her employer an additional $4,500 yearly in lost productivity and health care costs.
A digital approach can improve diabetes care while reducing costs. The most important aspect of fighting diabetes is prevention, which comes from making healthy choices. A prevention initiative undertaken by Omada Health called Prevent utilized a social network-based health regime to encourage young people with what’s called “prediabetes” to improve their personal routine, taking a healthier route with improved diet and regular exercise. It resulted in an average 5% weight loss after 16 weeks and a reduction in blood sugar that, in identical studies, reduces the instance of diabetes up to 60%. The social aspect enabled by digital means made it easier for students (who are already using their devices regularly anyway) to follow the program and get positive results.
These are just a couple of examples of the improvements to the healthcare system that are possible with digital intervention. Other areas such as smoking cessation, medical recordkeeping, and even Alzheimer’s diagnosis all look to greatly streamline care and lower costs by integrating new digital solutions into the way they conduct business. Goldman Sachs has estimated the savings opportunity from health care technology at over $300 billion. For those looking to reduce government spending, that number represents a bright future.