How The Healthcare Industry Is Changing Online
The healthcare industry is undergoing a monumental shift, not just in how it is administered, or in the politics and logistics of the system – both of which are in constant flux – but in how providers and tech companies offer opportunities for people engage with and interact with their healthcare choices online.
I’m a former VP of marketing for American Addiction Centers, a public behavioral healthcare company. Prior to that, I was COO of a marketing agency that specialized in digital marketing for national healthcare companies. My experience is based on the intersection of technology and patient experience.
The internet has already upended entire industries across the globe, changing how we buy cars, meet our future partners and consume media. But healthcare has been slower to change. Stubbornly paper-based for far longer than many other fields, healthcare administration has spent the last several years transitioning to a digital format.
This is evident in many ways – the way patients find new doctors, the process of researching and learning more about drug interactions or speaking with pharmacists, and how we access and engage with personal medical records are changing because of the internet.
Augmenting The Patient Research Experience
People have been able to use the internet to search for symptoms or treatments to every disease, or potential disease, under the sun for decades. The advent of massive databases of cross-checked data such as WebMD are ubiquitous, but not nearly as insightful (or accurate) as actual medical professionals.
In recent years, however, technology has advanced to the point that these sites are less necessary. Patients are now looking for enhanced access to care in many formats. That means businesses in the healthcare space should include the following functionalities:
• Digital appointments: The ability to speak with a doctor on call over a video chat offers people, especially in remote areas, a chance to ask important questions without risking expensive fees for emergency room or out-of-network visits.
• Pharmacist chat options: Online chat options with licensed pharmacists can help answer these pressing questions when the local pharmacist is closed.
• 24/7 medical care: Because doctors can now be on call for a larger pool of people via online appointments, it’s possible to speak with a medical practitioner 24/7.
• Online records access: Patients can now see their medical records online, see recent messages to and from doctors, review test results and access immunization records and scheduled appointments in their healthcare portals.
Researching And Finding Care With Digital Tools
Another area in which healthcare has changed online is in the way patients can find the care they are looking for. New technological tools are making it possible for even small family practices to implement online appointment booking and share practitioner information to a wider audience.
Some other ways in which the experience has, and can be, improved include:
• Crowd-sourced doctor reviews: Early doctor databases were often incomplete and light on data. Increasingly, it’s possible to find almost any doctor or specialist with enough reviews from fellow patients in the area.
• Easier search functions by area: Search can be optimized based on the factors that matter most to your patients, including location, specialty, patient types and insurance accepted.
• Concierge services to find specialists: If a patient cannot find the right doctor for any reason, it’s also possible to find online services that provide concierge support in researching and tracking down the right doctor.
• On-demand videos and live online classes: For patients with limited ability to travel or increased risk of infection, online classes like those offered by Beam (formerly Pactster) — which provides specialist PT support to patients with cystic fibrosis — can help alleviate symptoms and promote general wellness.
New Standards Of Responsibility
With new technological integrations come a great amount of responsibility. HIPAA continues to do a great job to ensure patient confidentiality and uphold the integrity of medical professionals and companies by regulating a standard of practice.
While accessibility and convenience are driving principles of internet companies in the healthcare space, issues of trust and credibility will likely create an environment that requires more regulation than ever. Under the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, employers are held accountable for the actions of their employees. Therefore, privacy and confidentiality will largely depend on the accessibility of patient information professionals have access to and when.
In terms of security, HIPAA mandates data security guidance via the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the federal agency responsible for developing information security guidelines, also defined as data confidentiality, integrity and availability.
In my time in the industry, I learned that Google, for example, has restricted behavioral health providers such as addiction treatment centers from advertising in its search engine without a third-party certification process. Google has even launched its own portal, “Recover Together,” which includes a directory of support meetings, Nalaxone providers and individual stories of recovery.
In the coming months and years, it wouldn’t be surprising to see companies like Google remove competing providers from the online research process altogether, opting to partner with select providers to completely own the space, thus regulating the quality of providers and, perhaps, monetizing the sector for itself.
The Future Of Healthcare In An Always-Connected World
For healthcare providers, practitioners, insurers and researchers, the internet offers an opportunity to engage with and provide value to patients like never before. As a result, those who are actively building platforms to alleviate common pain points, provide value to their patients and make the process of accessing information and making appointments easier are putting themselves on top.