As the number of connected health devices skyrockets, so do opportunities for creating improved outcomes and a better patient experience. Deloitte predicts there will be 440 million wearable health monitoring devices by 2024. In addition to wearables, healthcare apps, which have been on the market for years, continue to grow in popularity. For example, the market for digital mental health apps has grown exponentially since the start of the pandemic. According to Deloitte Global, spending on these digital apps worldwide will reach $500 million this year.
Other digital health solutions with room for improved outcomes include telehealth, which experienced high growth since 2020. While most providers are back to in-person visits, the vast majority of consumers want to keep telehealth as an option going forward. Telehealth is promising in its ability to broaden access to care, especially in underserved populations like rural communities. There are 46 million Americans living in rural areas and there are fewer than 40 physicians for every 100,000 residents. Telehealth can help bring timely access to providers, specialists, and other clinicians without patients having to make long commutes to urban facilities.
The missing piece
These digital opportunities are well-positioned to improve outcomes, lower costs, and enhance the patient experience. But they’re missing one key element that is necessary to be successful: the seamless sharing of data between healthcare stakeholders.
For example, the increased popularity of telehealth has led to an increase in telehealth providers and platforms. Today there are 1,370 telehealth services companies in the U.S. Unfortunately, those companies typically do not seamlessly share data within the provider’s systems or workflows. Research shows that 60% of clinicians cannot access their telehealth platform directly from their EHR. And when patients see a telehealth provider instead of their primary care physician, the physicians may never know about the appointment unless the patient remembers to tell them. Missing information leaves providers with an incomplete picture of the patient’s health.
The situation is similar for chronic disease management. Wearable devices such as smart insoles for diabetics can alert a physician when an increase in foot temperature is detected. This can mean the patient has a foot ulcer, which is a leading cause of lower-extremity amputation in diabetics. To be most effective, providers need to be able to track, measure, and analyze that data alongside the patient’s full medical history, including A1C, blood glucose levels, and other vitals. Chronic disease management in general includes a long list of care coordinators, specialists, primary care providers, labs, payers, and others—all of whom need timely access to current data.
The benefits of digital health innovations such as telehealth and wearable health devices will never be fully realized without clinical and administrative data fluidity.
Getting innovations to market more effectively
It’s challenging for new health tech companies to launch innovative solutions for healthcare because of the way data is disjointed. Before a new digital solution can be deployed, numerous individual connections are required between EHR companies, other health vendors, and the payers or providers themselves. While FHIR standardization helps, there is still a lot of customization that must be done to create each connection.
FHIR has leveled the playing field somewhat and increased competition by enabling smaller health tech companies and startups the same access to data sets and key stakeholders as larger, legacy system companies. Regardless, data is still notoriously difficult to share and manage at scale. If the solution requires the end user—whether provider, payer, or patient—to log into multiple systems or deal with cumbersome workflows, what might be a truly innovative solution will likely struggle to scale easily and quickly.
Research shows that in 2019, more than one in every three physicians still relied solely on fax (paper or electronic) or standard mail to share patient information with providers outside their organization. Just 34% engaged in bidirectional electronic sharing of patient information.
While FHIR enables the standardization of data in a way that helps improve workflows and usability, it still requires the building and management of APIs between entities. And that means data still has to be exchanged, aggregated, and validated each time it’s used. It also does little to address issues of data ownership, control, and transparency—all of which lead to a lack of trust in the quality of the data, as well as payer-provider friction. And without the ability to seamlessly share data between entities, it is difficult to integrate new technologies in a way that lets them work together. If each solution must be accessed via separate systems, data has to be pulled out of the solution and manually entered into the provider’s systems. This does little to address today’s costly administrative inefficiencies.
What we need is a data-sharing superhighway
Disparate data from disparate solutions, no matter how innovative those solutions may be, will lead to disparate care. What we need is a digital ecosystem—a peer-to-peer network—through which healthcare stakeholders can collaborate with payers, providers, and innovators in a secure, private, dedicated environment, while still maintaining full control over their organization’s data. This could include a digital marketplace where participants could discover, offer, or source proven solutions that harness the network. Any solution could be deployed directly to other participants without the need for a third party to act as a central data authority.
This type of ecosystem would enable data from any digital solution to be accessed and used by any participant who is permissioned to access it. Common infrastructure and tools built on FHIR, blockchain, AI, and other innovative technologies, would provide the security and immutability of the data.
Once a participant connects to the network, the need to build direct connections is significantly reduced—saving millions in IT resources.
Imagine telehealth providers being able to facilitate a virtual visit without having to change their workflow, duplicate processes, or access separate systems. Imagine if chronic care providers could see real-time vital data from their patients’ wearable devices as part of the patient’s health record, right alongside the patient’s complete medical history. No need to download and log into individual apps and manually enter data into the EHR.
Healthcare is human and at the heart of every procedure, diagnosis, transaction, and encounter is a human being who needs care. Imagine how the seamless sharing of data could transform lives and our entire industry.