It’s been a weird few years for the healthcare technology sector. In 2020, COVID-19 provided the push the industry needed to finally integrate telemedicine into healthcare delivery in a meaningful way. The pandemic-driven implementation of telehealth also came at a time when digital health proliferated, as more healthcare industry players realized that smartphones, watches and other devices could be used as legitimate medical tools and not just for information delivery or as self-affirming trackers for the worried well.
Last year the digital health industry worked hard to put some daylight between itself and the “wellness” sector, pushing payers to begin embracing newer technological tools and attempting to raise the evidentiary standards for emerging products.
It was not, however, the year CMS began paying for prescription digital therapeutics. The legislation that would create Medicare payment for such therapeutics remains in a holding pattern, although the Digital Therapeutics Alliance, an industry trade group, is optimistic that it will move forward in the coming year. That legislation’s fate is one of many questions facing the healthcare technology sector this year. Many tech firms are shedding employees, and inflation and the ongoing effects of the pandemic have stretched budgets and knocked many patients off their treatment plans.
Managed Healthcare Executive® spoke to leaders in healthcare technology about what they expect to see in 2023. Themes included tougher standards for digital tools, higher expectations from patients regarding healthcare technology, and a need for providers to be more creative as they seek to leverage new tools to help offset difficult economic conditions.
‘Removing the noise’
Sam Glassenberg, M.S., founder and CEO of Level Ex, a Chicago-based company that uses video game technology to offer training and simulations for healthcare professionals, says he believes the new year will be one in which the wide world of digital health technology is sorted into those that provide true value and those that do not.
“Following all the metaverse hype in 2022, the 2023 economy is going to serve as a great filter, removing the noise while driving greater adoption of the applications that provide real, enduring value,” he tells Managed Healthcare Executive®.
Glassenberg believes his company is well positioned to benefit from such a shift, because it facilitates collaborative, remote clinical and surgical training in a format that reduces the time and travel burdens traditionally associated with continuing medical education. “The macroeconomic situation is constraining budgets for both medical device and pharmaceutical companies, as well as hospitals,” he says.
Resurgence of preventive care
The increasing emphasis on value in healthcare will translate into a resurgence in preventive care, predicts Alecia Pritchett, the chief growth officer at Ixlayer, a San Francisco company that facilitates remote medical testing. She says the pandemic took a major toll on preventive care, as many people stopped making nonurgent healthcare visits or were preoccupied by more immediate concerns, such as a bout of COVID-19 or unemployment.
Pritchett points to a 2020 survey that showed more than one-third of patients with chronic conditions said their health was “noticeably worse” than at the start of the pandemic. Pritchett says the decline in health is related to many people missing important visits and checkups. When that happens, eventually something must give, she says.
“As healthcare systems and plans are being pushed to the limits and are faced with the financial and health consequences of these worsening and chronic conditions, they will need to seek preventive methods to get ahead of disease progression,” Pritchett adds.
Ixlayer hopes to capitalize on the preventive hiatus by making it easier for medical testing to be done at home, and at a lower cost. “At-home screening and diagnostic testing allows individuals to complete the test where and when it’s convenient and comfortable for them,” Pritchett says.
More direct-to-consumer health analytics
Victor Brown, MBA, the CEO and founder of the health and wellness software maker Xcellent Life, says he thinks 2023 will be a year in which healthcare insights generated by the copious amounts of personal health data become more widely available in a direct-to-consumer format. “Specifically,” says Brown, “I am expecting the market for health analytics, health risk management, health education and personalized health solutions that are sold directly to the consumer to see an increased growth rate.”
As Brown sees it, the pandemic brought about a new comfort level and increased consumer demand for mobile health technologies. The economics of healthcare are also forcing change, in his opinion. “The gap between how we access other services versus how we receive healthcare is causing growing discontent with traditional high-cost, low-value services,” he says.
Brown thinks a new regulatory framework is on its way that will make it easier and quicker for new technologies to get into the hands of consumers — and that, in his view, is only the beginning: “I believe it will usher in a new era of increasing longevity in human life and an improved quality of life given the capabilities of protecting human health with technology.”
Patient health insurance literacy
Ryan Bullock, chief operating officer at the medical device maker Aeroflow Healthcare, which is headquartered in Asheville, North Carolina, says patient empowerment also means enabling patients to be more informed when choosing health plans.
In a landscape in which a new wave of digital health devices is joining the stable of more established durable medical devices, he says patients shopping for insurance will need to know which plan provides the best coverage for the devices and tools upon which they rely.
“They should determine whether their equipment is covered under each potential health plan and how the associated costs are managed,” he says. “Just because a health plan includes coverage for medical equipment doesn’t mean the provider will completely cover the costs.”
One way patients might get answers is to contact their healthcare provider and ask them to explain which costs would be passed on to consumers, although providers often are not familiar with the details of health insurance. However, Bullock also said patients can — and should — expect their insurers to provide transparent information on their websites or apps.
“Many health plans also have online tools where you can research the providers by the plan types,” he says. “Carefully evaluate their tools online and check for ease of use. It can be a great indicator of the value system of the health plan.”
But it is not only health plans that need to step up their online marketing games. Rob Dreussi, chief information officer at HCTec, a healthcare IT firm in Brentwood, Tennessee, says health systems need to improve their “digital front doors.” He expects health systems to increase their use of digital marketing strategies and tools to boost patient adherence.
“We anticipate accelerated adoption of campaign-based outreach to consumers and patients,” he says. “These campaigns span email reminders for preventive screening and the use of web-based health risk assessments to identify consumers that could benefit from interventions like a knee replacement, for example.”
Dreussi said many health systems have traditionally relied on customer relationship management (CRM) software provided by their electronic health records provider. He expects that more health systems will start to consider CRM programs from outside the healthcare industry, such as Salesforce, although he added that such systems would need to adopt privacy-protection strategies due to the privacy requirements of the healthcare industry.