The Top Healthcare Tech Trends to Watch in 2015

Healthcare turns up the heat on digital channels and more.
Customer Experience

The healthcare landscape is undergoing massive changes as payers, providers, and other health organizations respond to pressures to provide more agile and cost-effective care. As health organizations reassess their business models, wearable devices, cloud computing, and predictive analytics are just some of the innovations that are helping healthcare professionals offer faster and more efficient patient care.

As we enter 2015, here are the some of the biggest innovations in healthcare technology with far-reaching impacts:

Nearly one-third of employers said they will only offer high-deductible plans in 2015, up from 22 percent in 2014 and 10 percent in 2010, according to a study by theNational Business Group on Health(NBGH). As consumers shoulder a growing portion of health expenses, the pressure for payers, providers, and other healthcare organizations to become consumer-centric continues to rise.

There are numerous opportunities for insurers and other healthcare organizations to help consumers make informed decisions as they shop for health plans, observes Munzoor Shaikh, a senior manager in consulting firm West Monroe Partners' healthcare practice. "We [consumers] don't know how to select the right amount of healthcare services at the right time," he says. "It's not that we don't have access, we just aren't educated, and so there's a whole slew of companies that are coming out that are focused on educating people on how to make wiser healthcare decisions."

The healthcare digital landscape in particular, will continue to mature as insurers and providers build consumer-centric journeys that are modeled after best practices from retail industries. "Whether it's online enrollment, healthcare personal financial tools, or improved engagement and care coordination, retail customer journeys will begin moving beyond experimentation to digital delivery products and services for mass adoption," notes Forrester Research analyst Peter Mueller in his report, "Predictions 2015: Healthcare Retail Goes Live."

Cigna is one such insurer that has rolled out comprehensive tools like the MyCigna app that lets users review deductibles, claims, and directories, among other functions. In January the insurer will launch a new digital health coaching program called Cigna Health Matters that offers a suite of mobile tools, social media engagement and incentives to help its members meet their health goals.

"The healthcare space is complex and customers are looking for ways to make it simpler and connect with Cigna at their convenience," notes Cigna Vice President of Product Development Eric Herbek. "We're focused on creating a retail-like customer experience to make it easier for our members, which you see in the look and feel of our tools like Cigna Health Matters."

The Health Matters program begins with a survey to assess the member's health based on information like weight, cholesterol level, blood pressure, behavior, and family history. The Health Matters program uses the survey to create a score on an ascending scale of 0 to 100 that evolves based on your health situation. As you complete exercises, your score will rise and you receive rewards like deposits into a health savings account or a gift card (if your employer offers them).During tests, the health survey's completion rate jumped from about 30 percent to 90 percent when it was presented as a game, according to Cigna.

Cigna also added its GoYou Marketplace, a curated health, wellness and fitness app store, to the Health Matters program and renamed it Apps & Activities. "There are already more than 100,000 health apps on Apple's App Store and we've whittled it to about 30 of the best health related apps so our customers know the brands they're choosing are trusted and are clinically relevant," Herbek says. "We try to follow consumer trends so some of the most popular apps like Fitbit and Jawbone are in our marketplace because we also want people to get credit for devices or apps that they're already using."

Mobile Health
Health solutions need to match consumer behaviors and given the rise in mobile usage, we can expect to see more advances in mobile-focused health apps, notes Paul Slavin, executive vice president and chief operational officer for the media company Everyday Health. "The tools and the content are there, we just need to get it into the hands of more people," he says.

As an example, Slavin points to a partnership between Everyday Health and the University of Notre Dame to collaborate on research aimed at helping women have healthier pregnancies and babies. The research is focused on women with a high incidence of low birth weights, premature births, and infant mortality to provide them with timely digital information and tools.

Everyday Health andNotre Damecombined their data and technology assets to provide personalized digital content and tools asa supplemental intervention to improve prenatal care of mothers. Women at various stages of pregnancy are linked through an application on their smart phones that provides them with specific information relating to each woman's pregnancy and lifestyle. As they proceed through the program, the participants receive personalized content that encourages healthy choices and frequent prenatal care visits.

"We believe providing moms with direct access to personalized information that they can get at any time can ultimately help them have healthier babies," Slavin says. "And if the data supports that, we can build tools for other situations, like outpatients, by providing personalized information that can save them time and money."

Advances in Wearable Technology
Fitness tracking apps and other types of wearable devices are still in the infancy stage, but they offer a growing number of ways to help providers administer better patient care and outcomes as technology advances. Surgeons, for example, have used Google Glass to stream their operations online, place medical images in their field of view, and consult with colleagues remotely as they operate.

"Yes, we all agree that Google Glass is not perfect, in fact, it is far from it, writes Dr. Rafael Grossmann, one of the first surgeons to use Google Glass in an operation, in a blog post. "[But] Glass has awakened the imagination and creativity of the technologic community, the industry and the geeks out there."

Wearable devices generated more than $1.6 billion in sales last year and are expected to reach $5 billion by 2016,accordingto Gartner. Huge enterprises like Google, Apple, IBM, and Microsoft are also investing in wearable technology that collects biometric and other health data and leading to advances in telemedicine.

The "next frontier" in fitness trackers is the ability to provide data from the devices as a service to physicians and translate it into actionable information, notes Herbek. "On the horizon, I see that there's going to be a movement in using wearable devices for tracking chronic illnesses," he says. "For example, we have a pilot with a national employer for diabetes management using a remote wireless glucometer to assist people in learning how to track activities associated with diabetes."

Dr. Henry Wei, senior medical director of clinical innovation at Aetna Innovation Labs, agrees that wearable devices are promising, but the devices need to be more widely used. "We're seeing some great strides in wearables and telemedicine but we don't want wearables to be a luxury good," he notes. "Wearables like GoogleGlass and others have a lot of potential but we also have to look at the broad ecosystem in terms of what people already have, like smartphones."

Looking ahead, Wei also hinted at more partnerships between consumer tech companies and healthcare organizations. As healthcare organizations adopt consumer-oriented approaches it is likely that they will team up with companies that already have the experience and technology for meeting consumer needs.

Last month, Samsung named Aetna, Cigna, and Cleveland Clinic as partners in the Samsung Digital Health Platform, which includes an SDK, API, algorithms, and analytics for building health-related apps. Other partners include Nike, Stanford University, and the University of California San Francisco Medical Center.

"I'd look for partnerships rather than competition to happen between some of these entities that you might not think about as being in the health realm but are making a strong push into this space," Wei says. "We have more to gain by cooperating and coming up with novel partnerships than being competitors."

Enhanced Contact Centers
The adoption of electronic medical records has had a seismic effect on the healthcare industry, but more work needs to be done in streamlining the many data points and records that hospitals, providers, and insurers have about a patient. Healthcare companies are increasingly looking to cloud-based solutions to help them manage their clinical, operational, and financial records.

Indeed, siloed contact centers can undermine customer journeys, suggests Forrester's Mueller. "As retail healthcare models move to scale, standalone contact center capabilities will not be enough to preserve customer relationships," he maintains. "Contact centers that are not digitally integrated with the rest of the organization will struggle to handle increased volume and to effectively resolve member issues." Digitally integrated contact centers, according to Mueller, will need cloud-based business process management platforms, preference management, unified desktops, and co-browsing capabilities.

Last month, Carenet Healthcare Services, a provider of healthcare support services and care management programs, turned to cloud-based customer experience management (CEM) provider Kana Software to improve its customer service initiatives. Carenet agents interact with the members of commercial health plans, hospital systems, and employer groups. Using Kana's CEM platform, Carenet agents will be able to provide more comprehensive answers and build stronger relationships with callers, says Carenet Healthcare Services Chief Operating Officer Vikie Spulak. Carenet chose Kana as its CRM provider to give agents "a 360-degree view of members across channels," and provide that "omnichannel experience," she adds.

"Let's say a patient reached out and wanted information about the Ebola virus," Spulak says. "One of our nurses can answer the patient's question and if the client provided us with his or her CRM information, the nurse can also tell the caller that he or she is eligible for a free mammogram or a checkup because all that information is right in front of her."