Oct 19 2021

HLTH 2021: Meet the Patients Where They Are in the Continuously Transforming Digital Health Sphere

From the use of healthcare devices to sharing the right medical information, providers face a changing care landscape as patients expect more consumer-ready healthcare access.

Most adults in the U.S. own a cellphone of some kind, and 85 percent of them own a smartphone, according to recent data from the Pew Research Center.

Smartphone users are booking flights, depositing checks, ordering food and streaming entertainment at home from the many apps on their devices. But healthcare in the U.S. has yet to reach that level of widespread consumer access that other industries have achieved.

At the HLTH 2021 conference, available virtually and live in Boston, experts discussed transformations happening in the digital health space, from patient-facing devices providing more actionable data and the personalization of care to meeting patients where they are with the right health information.  

Move Your Data Forward from ‘Step Zero’

“Getting sensor data is step zero in my mind, and it’s fantastic that we already are. But then what do you do with the data? What do you expect the patient or customer to do with the data?” asked Priya Abani, CEO of mobile electrocardiogram device company AliveCor.

In a panel discussion on “The Blurring Lines of Health Devices,” three healthcare technology startup CEOs shared their views on the need to make data actionable for providers and patients.

Companies are much more focused on customers and the customer experience in the health tech space, influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Abani said. The next step is to focus the data and make it more intelligent.

The interest in use cases for consumer-grade health devices from medical research communities is growing, added Oura CEO Harpreet Rai. The consumer health tech company produces the Oura Ring, which tracks health information such as heart rate and body temperature. In 2020, The University of California, San Francisco partnered with the company on a study to predict the onset of COVID-19 symptoms using data collected by Oura Ring wearers.

RELATED: Learn how to integrate remote patient monitoring data to improve health outcomes.

Eddie Martucci, CEO and co-founder of biotech software company Akili Interactive, said the landscape had changed even before the pandemic. Devices were much different five to 10 years ago; now, patients are looking for a more personalized healthcare experience.

“I believe we’re going to see a massive acceleration of good data on really futuristic technology that wouldn’t have happened a decade ago,” Martucci said.

Earlier this year, his company announced collaborations with three healthcare systems to study the use of Akili’s digital treatment for patients experiencing cognitive dysfunction or “brain fog” after COVID-19.

“This is the new age of medicine,” Abani added. “This is the most transformative time.”

‘We Can Make a Big Difference in People’s Lives’

Dr. Alexa B. Kimball experienced firsthand what it was like to rapidly deploy a widespread telehealth solution amid the pandemic. On a Wednesday, she told her team at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston that they needed a telehealth plan by Monday, and they worked through the weekend to make it happen.

“We have increased access for all sorts of different populations. We’ve proved that if we support this right, we can make a big difference in people’s lives, and we’re starting to really optimize how we build things around it to really make sure that the healthcare is delivered in a way that is the most helpful and useful,” said Kimball, president and CEO of Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess. She is also a professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School.

The panel discussion “Getting Personal with Digitally-Enabled Care” also highlighted the importance of healthcare accessibility.  

Dr. Darshak Sanghavi
We need data that’s actually giving us wisdom, not just information.”

Dr. Darshak Sanghavi Global Chief Medical Officer, Babylon Health

Patients are a highly underutilized resource, Kimball added, and they need to be given more room to take charge of their own health journeys. When providers conduct a virtual visit and see a patient in their home setting — not in a sterile doctor’s office with a disposable gown — there can be a more holistic approach to care from both parties.  

But it’s not enough to simply deluge patients or providers with data. Digital health should work toward solving the issue of information overload so patients are not overwhelmed in making their own health decisions.

“We need data that’s actually giving us wisdom, not just information,” added Dr. Darshak Sanghavi, global chief medical officer of digital-first provider Babylon Health.

Centering the Patient When Sharing Health Information

This is why meeting the patient where they are should be top of mind for providers, according to the “Impactful Health Information Sharing” panel discussion.  

The patient’s journey does not end after leaving the doctor’s office. Patients often seek medical information outside of their primary care physician — from Google to TikTok — which can have a lasting impact on their health.

Dr. Austin Lee Chiang, chief medical social media officer of Jefferson Health, has nearly a half million followers on TikTok. He said that his medical training did not prepare him to seamlessly communicate public health information.

“We’re not taught in medical school all the skills in marketing and communications to reach a wide audience effectively, and especially our own local communities. And I think that needs to change,” Chiang said.

MORE FROM HEALTHTECH: What digital lessons did healthcare executives learn from the pandemic?

The information in academic journals needs to come down from the ivory tower to the dinner table, added Dr. Garth Graham, director and global head of healthcare at YouTube. Information needs to reach people in the palm of their hand.

Social media is just another language, said Dr. Jessica Shepherd, chief medical officer for health and wellness information provider Verywell Health. Doctors need to be willing to speak the language because their patients are already having those discussions.

Susan Collins, global head of healthcare at communications platform company Twilio, added, “What we’ve learned in deploying technology during COVID has been this notion that it is actually possible to deploy consumer-grade technology for communications in our space in a secure way and treat it like any part of our life.” 

Follow us on Twitter at @HealthTechMag and join the conversation at #HLTH2021.

janiecbros/Getty Images