How digital technologies—and millennials—are shaping healthcare

By Susmit Pal

There’s a new shift in expectations for healthcare—and it’s turning the paradigm of traditional top-down care delivery on its head. Enter digital technology, which is empowering patients to operate more like consumers and make smarter healthcare choices. Moreover, new audiences are entering the patient population and new devices are emerging in the market, redefining how healthcare is provided.

This has also caused patients, payers, and providers to undergo significant role and organizational changes. In other words, the days of patients abdicating responsibility for their care to a general practitioner or specialist are long gone.

Although this trend has been growing for more than a decade, it has shown a dramatic spike in the last few years—with patients are more eager than ever to partner with their medical providers as active participants in their care and have a larger role in decision-making.

In fact, according to a 2016 Deloitte survey, “34% of survey respondents strongly believe that doctors should encourage patients to research and ask questions about their treatment, and 58% feel that doctors should explain treatment costs to them before [they make] decisions.”

Millennials and Mobile Health

The role of mobile technologies—and the millennial generation driving their presence within healthcare—are quickening the transfer of power to patients. Specifically, the widespread use of mobile devices, coupled with an explosion in the number of medical applications, is better enabling patients to access and regularly interact with healthcare systems.

Case in point: In the last 20 years, the number of vendors in mobile health—aka: mHealth—has expanded to the point that there are now more than 250,000 medical applications for everything from price comparisons of providers and drugs (Castlight, GoodRx, FairHealth, Healthcare bluebook, Vitals) to provider reviews (Healthgrades, RateMDs, MDInsider), appointment scheduling (QueueDr, ZocDoc) and, most commonly, medical information on chronic diseases, and health and fitness.

So, what’s helping to drive this adoption? In a word, millennials. They comprise the largest population segment in the U.S. by nearly 10 million and are rapidly making their way into the patient population. And who better understands the role of digital than millennials—a generation that according to a study conducted by MarketWatch “identify more with their smartphones than with anything or anyone else”? Consequently, we’ll begin to see a surge in the demand for digital services in healthcare with their influence.

The Rise of Wearables

New digital technology has also opened up a new world of wearable devices that is advancing mHealth practices. By capturing and transmitting patient data, wearable devices are providing opportunities for patient assessment, treatment management, vital signs monitoring, and more.

With digital interactions and monitoring devices come new sources of data—and, as a result, analysis opportunities to improve individual care, population health, and the healthcare experience. After all, tools such as patient surveys, social monitoring, physician and facility reviews, and personal biometric data are generating huge volumes of data.

Although the meaningful use of all the data is still largely in its infancy, providers are turning to healthcare informaticists and data scientists to help them figure out how to best gather, analyze, use, and help clinicians and others interpret data.

What’s more, the role of analytics is critical as the industry moves toward value-based payment models. Further, outcome-based reimbursement provides greater incentives to providers to treat patients as consumers and keep them engaged in their health and wellness. For patients, however, the shift toward high-deductible health plans is driving a demand for greater price transparency and comparison of medical services.

In conclusion, healthcare consumerism is taking hold throughout the healthcare industry. To compete, providers need a digital technology strategy to meet the challenge of the patient-consumer’s expectation of service, satisfaction, convenience, and value. But meeting those expectations while maintaining high standards of care, security, and privacy—and simultaneously complying with government mandates and regulations—is no small order.

That’s why I believe providers need partners that can help advise and provide expertise across the board, from patient outreach and engagement strategies to the right tech devices and infrastructure, data analytics, and security. The provider can then concentrate on what they do best—providing care to their patients—while moving forward to improved patient experience and health outcomes.

Susmit Pal is a healthcare strategist at Dell EMC.