The Google-Amazon-Apple Revolution: The Medicine to Save $8 Billion for US Healthcare

Abhinav Shashank
Tue 09 October 2018

Ever had one of those annoying, slightly-frustrating experiences where you make a call to the customer support department of a company to track your order, and instead, being led on an adventure of being transferred from department to department? A simple phone call to ask about an appointment or to cancel your cable becomes an hour-long call, where you explain your story multiple times to different people from the scratch- each version slightly angrier than the last one. But you’re a consumer. And you’re important.

We’re looking at the rise of a world where the individual, end user is at the center. We’re looking at some companies who have conquered most things that could have been conquered in a consumer-centric space, and are now scrambling to compete over a greener land: healthcare.

We’re looking at no less than a $7 billion-investment, spanning across value-based care, telehealth, precision medicine, and most importantly, automation that leads the way to patient-centric care. But there’s a long, long way to go- especially when we are hopping across the siloed and cracked healthcare landscape.  

Making healthcare a well-oiled system

Now replace yourself with a patient in the above scenario. An ailing person, possibly confused about navigating the healthcare system and being required to bring every piece of their documentation to every department. Very much like a labyrinth!

Much like these growing number of teams in an organization, the data in healthcare is exploding. It’s literally exploding- so much so that the infrastructure we have isn’t enough to hold the data- and we’re talking over 2 trillion gigabytes! And none of that is good enough to be used if we don’t integrate the different sources together.

New imaging technologies, increasing EHR systems, and growing IoT devices that capture every heartbeat of yours are placing a strain on existing data infrastructures. Vast swathes of patient-related data are now available, creating opportunities for far more effective diagnoses and more personalized way of care. But it all begins with bringing all your data in one place. Achieving this feat is no longer to keep a competitive edge- it’s a survival necessity!

Removing the point of friction

In 2016, a few researchers with John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed data from three large commercial payers, spanning over 1.7 million lives. The team looked at care coordination and patient outcomes and found that when a good volume of information was shared among providers, patients had a higher level of care and experienced lower rates of adverse episodes.

As long as healthcare remains siloed, patients will continue to fall between cracks at various points in their journey. And it’s not just mere data integration. Data integration was a big deal and a big buzz-phrase when computer technology was sophisticated enough to compute insights out of a large pool of data and the field of healthcare informatics had emerged.

50 years later, and we’re still struggling to gain insights off those pools! All the vital data, ranging from clinical, financial, lab, imaging, is held in isolated pockets and costs healthcare $342 billion annually. What’s more, data integration is the cause of inefficiencies, errors in clinical workflows, waste, and significant harm to patients.

Successful clinical integration has to be the foundation of healthcare. Without that, it’s a tough deal to guide patients across their care journey and deliver a better quality of care- which a growing determinant of financial success. Data has to be pulled out of the disconnected siloes, normalized into a single, uniform format which is secure and safeguarded. It’s time we wiped the slate clean and started to maximize the value of healthcare data.

The answer lies in automation

Consider the paradigm of customer-customer support and the frustrating calls once again. The biggest challenge is when the person on the other end of the phone call doesn’t understand your problem. Or worse, has no answer to it.

What a lot of companies did was eliminate the other end. Now, you tap away at your app screen and there are some sections, broadly categorizing some issues. You choose the most relevant one and in there are some more questions, and so on. On the surface, it looks like a very well-thought questionnaire to get to the bottom of your challenge. In reality, it hardly helps. Except for frustrating you even more!

A consumerism-inspired, patient-centric healthcare is going to be prevalent- if not today, then tomorrow. And most likely, it’s going to be an automated, smarter healthcare- where automation can save healthcare over $8 billion. The 2015 CAQH Index shows healthcare needlessly spends more than $8 billion every year on manual work for simple procedures- including mailing checks and claims and contacting patients to verify their health insurance.

What automation means for the physicians and the care teams

First things first- automation is hardly about replacing the people in healthcare. It’s about reducing the valuable time that goes into sorting papers and relaying orders. Physicians spend no less than 50% of their time keying in data into their data systems and following the regulatory compliances. Automated workflows with pre-populated content and automatically-generated pre-visit summaries for patients can greatly reduce the time that goes into hunting for information.

Automation can also help care teams track inefficiencies around them. For example, if a patient is has been in a waiting room for a significantly long time, a notification would reach a nurse. They could optimize all the patient touch points- appointment scheduling, ER wait times, and discharges.

What automation means for administrative teams

Automation could be really instrumental in capturing the insights which we tend to miss, and which could actually impact the functioning of a practice. Real-time track and monitoring of expenses across different departments or service lines could be enhanced using cognitive automation. Administrative teams can balance revenue, manage inventory, and track the amount of waste a practice generates, and ultimately optimize their operations to reflect better outcomes.  

What automation means for patients

Automation is all about the value you provide to your patients. Give them simpler experiences. Let them book their appointments and schedule it according to their convenience. Have a single, unique patient record that is available to all the members of their care team to let them view everything in real time. Don’t have your patients carry their reports every time they visit you- instead, have pre-visit summaries and insights at the point of care. Automation is necessary to increase patient satisfaction and to bridge the gaps between patients and providers.

Automation begins with comprehensive, complete data- not half-baked insights. Unless the customer support portal on an app or a website don’t have enough insights into what you’re looking for, it’s of little use!

The road ahead

There is a reason why healthcare leads the way when it comes to AI and technology investment- healthcare is familiar yet different than other fields. The growth of data and with every bit storing some valuable information, there’s no doubt that automation will play to its strength and deliver the personalized care we all are hoping for. But there’s a bunch of technical and feasibility challenges that are unique to the healthcare industry- and the biggest of all is the fact that there is no standard format or central platform. So now we know where to begin, right?


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