Robots assisting in surgery. Protons fighting cancer. Bionic limbs. Technological innovations in medicine are both mind-boggling and effective. Technological advancements in the business of health care, while perhaps not as glamorous, are impressive, too. Four come to mind that could impact your employees’ health and company health care costs.
1. Apps and gamification
Health and fitness apps are multiplying rapidly. In fact, one estimate puts the number of such apps at more than 165,000.
Among them, Doctor OnDemand lets users see a doctor for a video consultation. HelloMD specializes in finding specialists. Strava lets runners and cyclists track time and distance of training efforts. Nike+ Training offers more than 100 workouts to get and stay in shape. Doctors rely on medical apps such as Epocrates and UpToDate.
Wearable technology is giving healthy activities a boost. Even companies are getting involved. More than 70 large American employers such as IBM, Bank of America, and Target have purchased wearable Fitbit devices for their staffs to track activity, exercise, food, weight, and sleep.
RedBrick Health and limeade incorporate elements of game playing into interactive, online wellness programs that promote better fitness and nutrition among employees. Companies often reward their staff with discounts on health care premiums for completion of activities. These wellness programs are paying off, too. The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans estimates that employers save from $1 to $3 for every dollar spent.
2. Big data and analytics
Businesses have used big data to become more sophisticated in designing products and marketing to niche audiences. Now, health care is benefiting from such analysis. Complex data sets are merged and mined to extract insights about population groups and behaviors.
Big data helps providers, payers, employers, and others gain insight into a variety of issues that can help lead to more effective care, drive innovation, improve quality, lower costs, and more. In 2015, Apple and IBM announced a deal that will allow iPhone and Apple Watch users to share data with IBM’s Watson Health analytics service, potentially bringing the benefits of crowd-sourced, data-driven health care to millions.
3. Electronic health records (EHR)
Online health records allow for better coordination of care among the providers involved in your employees’ care. There’s less chance of redundant and unnecessary screenings, lab tests, and imaging, which helps control employee and employer health care costs.
Doctors are less likely to unknowingly prescribe drugs that will interact with other drugs a patient is on. Should a medical emergency occur, all of the patient’s information about current and past health conditions is readily available to the attending care team. Overall, care histories are apparent and care is more efficient.
4. Technology enabled patient-doctor interaction
Med tech offers numerous opportunities for patients, doctors, and other health care providers to interact in new ways. Devices can monitor blood pressure or glucose levels and transmit the results to providers. Care teams—separated geographically—can view and discuss an MRI or other imaging results electronically. Doctors diagnose a condition remotely with the assistance of uploaded photos.
Virtual doctor visits avoid time-consuming and unnecessary trips to a clinic or expensive trips to the ER. And blue-chip companies are employing the service more and more. A recent Forbes article reports that Teladoc signed up more than 500 new accounts for 2016, including Starbucks, Dell, Merck, Marriott, and Mercedes Benz.
Innovation at Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente (formerly Group Health) medical offices have been using electronic health records since 2003 when only three percent of the nation’s health care organizations were doing so. We’ve used data from more than 200 individual population health studies to guide pricing for employer self-funded plans. As overall employee health improves, plan costs go down.
Our patients are able to securely e-mail doctors, access their own medical records online, and converse by phone with a consulting nurse who has their complete health history. With Kaiser Permanente online visits, members can receive a virtual diagnosis—and a prescription if needed—typically within an hour.