Is eHealth the key to a healthier practice?

An ‘e’ prefix tends to indicate a technological leap forward, and that’s certainly the case for ‘eHealth’. It’s helping patients manage their own health and changing their relationship with healthcare providers. So, where does that leave your bottom line? NAB’s Cameron Fuller examines the impact of technology and contemplates potentially profitable new business models.

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Telehealth, eHealth, telemedicine, mHealth – new and emerging technologies are giving patients more control over their healthcare and, potentially, reducing their costs. But a sustainable healthcare system must also create value for providers, so how can advances in technology support your bottom line?

Different relationships

We’ve seen healthcare providers using digital technology to streamline their systems and processes for some time now.

NAB Health Executive General Manager Cameron Fuller points out that electronic record-keeping is replacing scanners, printers and faxes in health practices up and down the country.

“Electronic records can save time and money because they’re so much easier to access, update, store and share,” he says. “And, by the end of this year, every Australian who doesn’t opt out will have an electronic My Health Record, so doctors and other healthcare professionals who have the right technology in place will be able to share health information and collaborate online.”

Patients could also contribute to the pool of information in the future.

“Most people are familiar with the way wearables such as Fitbits and Apple watches can provide feedback on things like activity levels, nutrition and even the quality of our sleep to help people adopt a healthier lifestyle,” Fuller says. “Now we’re seeing moves towards sharing that information with medical professionals. In the US, for example, Fitbit just joined forces with Google with the intention of using Google’s new Cloud Healthcare API to connect user data with electronic medical records.”

Investing in prevention

Fuller predicts that a more preventative approach to healthcare will create new income streams for providers.

“In health, revenue is moving towards prevention,” he says. “Both the government and private health insurers are keen to keep people out of hospital so it’s possible that, in future, they’ll incentivise practitioners to take a more proactive approach.”

New technologies are already helping some people manage chronic illnesses at home.

“Most private health insurers in the US now provide cover for apps that enable people with diabetes to monitor their blood glucose and insulin levels,” Fuller explains. “This can help them make adjustments before they need medical intervention.”

Those patients requiring fewer face-to-face consultations will still need to work in collaboration with medical professionals.

“Doctors and other providers might stay in close touch electronically and play a more consultative role,” Fuller says. “Clearly we’re going to need new business models to ensure there’s a fair and profitable fee structure for anyone who offers this kind of online eHealth service.”

Patients driving change

Technology is also changing consumer expectations.

“Patients used to be seen but not heard… people are [now] more likely to be active participants in every aspect of their healthcare,” Fuller says.

He also believes that it’s the patients themselves driving the uptake of technology.

“Booking online used to be a cool option, now it’s what people expect,” he says. “They might also expect a text to remind them about their appointment and another if there’s going to be a delay. This could be an important business opportunity if you listen to your patients and respond to what they want.”

An appropriate response could include greater transparency.

“People in need of a particular service want to know where they can find it and how much it will cost,” Fuller says. “The HICAPS Go app now lets them source a service, check their health fund rebate and see their out-of-pocket costs, book an appointment and then swipe to pay. As other apps come along, we can expect to see even more transparency in the system. Consumers will be able to make more informed choices and I imagine some providers will feel threatened by that. But I think the majority will see it as an opportunity to build their practice by winning confidence and trust.”

Education and preparation

Fuller suggests that, when change is happening so rapidly, education and preparation go hand in hand.

“The more you know about new developments the easier it will be to incorporate them into your business as they become available,” he says. “It’s also important to stay in touch with the government and private health insurers so you understand how new revenue models will likely evolve. When you’re on the front foot, you’ll be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.”