Can’t help but reflect at this time of year on what was, was not and what’s ahead. 2015 was an amazing year in the land of connected health. The most impactful trend I saw was the change of view from administrators on the delivery side of health care. Their perspective went from “Show me the evidence” to “If we don’t get involved, we’ll be left behind.” This has an enormous impact on our sales strategy for promoting the widespread adoption of connected health. Selling to a ‘fear of missing out’ mentality is easier than the healthy skepticism that preceded.
As we round out the year, I find my vocabulary changing as I describe connected health, particularly the activities at Partners Connected Health, because of the mainstreaming of concepts like wearables and apps. Even in healthcare, it seems that people are now assuming that services will be delivered via these platforms.
Speaking of Partners Connected Health, we had a banner year as well, starting with my designation as Vice President, Connected Health. This is an important symbol of Partners’ commitment to virtual care as a strategy moving forward. In fact, in 2016, there will be a concerted effort to bring thought leaders and experts from across our system together to map out a system-wide strategy for telehealth. And, with the help of two outstanding co-authors, Gina Cella and Carol Colman, I published The Internet of Healthy Things in October at our Connected Health Symposium.
In 2015, we also rebranded from “Center for Connected Health” to “Partners Connected Health” as a way to further demonstrate that connected health is becoming embedded in our care delivery processes across the network, which serves more than 1.5 million patients each year. We witnessed expansion in all aspects of our work, including more deployments of Blood Pressure Connect, as well as new pilots in medication adherence, all of these in tight collaboration with Partners Population Health Management. On the innovation side of our team, we’re now organized in three units: User Centered Design, Research and Data Science. Our relationships with corporate clients are both fruitful (progress with Daiichi Sankyo and Samsung) and growing with new partnerships to build more exciting engagement tools. The work funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to build new functionality under our site, Wellocracy, is also progressing nicely.
Symposium 2015 was a success by all measures, with increases in attendees, exhibitors, sponsors and near universal enthusiasm for our program offerings.
As we look forward to 2016, what will be the headliners?
- We’re noticing an exciting trend in the wearables space. Whether you call it wearables 2.0, beyond wearables or some other name, this trend involves innovators creating technologies that offer insights — rather than just numbers — from wearable technology. Companies such as Spire, Interaxon, Empatica and others exemplify this trend. They don’t so much offer users things like step counts or hours slept, but stress maps, feedback around mindfulness and prediction of untoward health events.
- The pharmaceutical industry will have bought in to the concept of digital therapeutics. One of our current partners, Daiichi Sankyo, was early into this space and, in 2016, we’ll be ready to surface the exciting work we’re doing with them in atrial fibrillation. Others are coming on board as well.
We define digital therapeutics as an intervention delivered by digital means that, independently of any medications changes, has a positive effect on clinical outcomes. We became intrigued by this notion when conducting a study of teenagers with asthma. The intervention was a simple one: a private Facebook group. Giving these teens a private place to share with each other was correlated with improved outcomes, independent of any medication changes – which led us to the idea of digital therapeutics. We’ve seen the same phenomenon in the study and deployment of a variety of our mobile apps for increasing activity levels and cancer pain management, for instance. Companies like Omada and Welldoc have had great success with digital interventions.
We’ve decided to feature these two trends as content pillars for next year’s Connected Health Symposium, with the working title of: Wearables and Digital Therapeutics: New Frontiers for Patient Engagement. We are eager to hear what you think of this. Help us shape the content for Symposium 2016 by commenting on this post.
- 2015 was the year that virtual visits went from an “up-and-coming-trend” to a “stay in business application” for payers and pharmacy chains. It will be exciting to watch how this evolves further in the year ahead. Consumer interest is just starting to emerge, but I picture the tired mom with frayed nerves and a crying, sick kid at 1 AM trying to figure out whether to leverage Walgreens, CVS, her insurer via American Well or Teledoc OR her own doctor’s practice for her virtual visit. Of course, this is not the time when you want to sort this out.
More payers will be reimbursing for virtual visits in 2016, so volume is sure to grow. Depending on how providers respond, we could see this category of care delivery as a disrupter too, in the same way we did with retail clinics 10 years ago. Also emerging in this category are specialized direct-to-consumer offerings such as Spruce, others in dermatology and Maven in women’s health.
- Also on the reimbursement front, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the chronic care management code in January of 2015, allowing providers to bill for 20 minutes/month of non-face-to-face time devoted to care management. CMS did not see a lot of claims in 2015, as expected, but organizations are building systems to bill for this code at scale in 2016. MD Revolution (where I am an advisor) is one company building such systems.
The market for connected health is booming so there will be curve balls, new entrants and lots of other exciting developments. We’ve hit the rapidly growing part of the inflection point for adoption and I’m looking forward to it as our team continues to contribute both to real-world implementations and to creating the future.