Earlier this year, Salesforce published a study exploring the communication habits of roughly 2,000 Americans as it pertains to their care providers, insurers, and pharmaceutical manufacturers. This study, the 2017 Connected Patient Report, also evaluates study participant’s thoughts and willingness to adopt emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and digital health assistants. Study participants were asked a wide range of questions covering everything from what method of communication they typically use to schedule appointments, to what concerns they have around the impact of AI on healthcare and the patient experience.
The timing of this study makes the results particularly compelling. To start, healthcare is changing. Historically U.S. healthcare has operated under a ‘fee for service’ model, meaning that care providers were/are reimbursed by insurers for the care they provide to patients, regardless as to whether the patient’s condition improves or the care and procedures provided were absolutely necessary. In recent years, government legislation and an industry shift from ‘volume to value’ has brought providers and insurers together to find less costly ways to keep patients healthy, and has incentivized quality of care and patient outcomes. More and more emphasis is being placed on giving patients the tools and education they need to keep themselves healthy and manage chronic conditions in their homes, thus averting costly emergency department visits and inpatient stays. As a result, managing relationships and communicating with patients how they want to be communicated with (whether it’s via phone, email, text, patient portal on their cell phone, etc.) is becoming a core competency of the organizations who are most successful in this space.
Additionally, the amount of data available to patients and healthcare entities is exploding. According to Forbes, more data has been generated in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race; healthcare is no exception. This, paired with high availability of advancing technology and devices to patients, has created an enormous appetite for information and participation in their own health care using a variety of communication methods. Some findings from the data that Salesforce presented that illustrate this particularly well are:
- Over one third of patients use a patient portal to get information about their current health data (such as medical records and lab results)
- 9% of millennials have scheduled an appointment with their primary care physician via text/SMS
Furthermore, the study shows that millennials are most likely to contact their insurance providers, regardless as to the reason. As the millennial generation ages and becomes the primary decision makers for matters pertaining to their health and coverage, this presents a huge opportunity for insurers and providers to connect with a large percentage of the American populace, and potentially intervene in their wellness and life decisions early so that they never develop chronic conditions like diabetes or congestive heart failure in the first place. In order to do this successfully, insurers and providers need a platform to track patient communication and outreach from all sources, deliver educational material, and make sure they’re doing a great job nurturing the relationships they have with their members/patients (such as Salesforce Health Cloud).
Finally, despite some uncertainty among study participants as it relates to artificial intelligence in healthcare, the future of machine learning in healthcare is a bright one. Someone once told me that, “AI can only be as effective as the trust a consumer places in the technology.” This means that as individuals become more comfortable with the concept of AI (or as AI gets integrated more and more seamlessly into products individuals are already using), the possibility of using an algorithm to help target provider/insurer outreach, finding the best time to schedule an appointment, or giving patients access to a digital assistant to help manage their conditions becomes a very real one.
We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the benefits artificial intelligence and big data can bring to healthcare. As more and more patients, providers, and insurers begin to understand what machine learning is all about, I’m confident this technology will be used in places and ways we haven’t even dreamed of yet, and ultimately will revolutionize healthcare.