Care anywhere: Moving healthcare closer to home
By shifting care out of the hospital and closer to home, virtual care and connected home initiatives can broaden access to healthcare and reduce the strain on overstretched health systems.
The Internet of Things already consists of around 25 billion connected devices, a figure that is expected to double in the next five years.¹ The technology that has enabled the Internet of Things to proliferate – ubiquitous high-speed data transfer and connected devices, cheaper and smaller sensors, low-cost data storage, advances in analytics and machine learning – will dramatically transform healthcare over the next decade. It will open up the possibility of care anywhere, through the virtual care and connected home initiatives.
While care anywhere will improve the lives of citizens, the full force of its transformational power will be seen in its impact on health systems. Some capacity-constrained health systems are already trying to steer patients away from hospitals – a shift from inpatient to outpatient care that has accelerated in recent years. Care anywhere initiatives will allow the healthcare industry to dramatically speed up this process and take it a step further by shifting more medical treatment closer to the home. The care anywhere concept of being able to achieve more from less suggests that it may be a way to alleviate the forecast shortage in clinician labor.
Care anywhere has the potential to be one of the most important strategies to reduce the burden faced by overstretched health services and to help set healthcare provision back on a sustainable footing.
Care anywhere is one of four themes that we believe will be central to the digitization of healthcare over the next decade. The other themes we examine are smart care, empowered care and intelligent healthcare enterprise.
Virtual care (which includes areas such as telehealth and telemedicine) connects clinicians, patients, family members and health professionals in real time to provide health services, promote professional collaboration, support self-management and coordinate care. Telehealth units in hospitals already virtually monitor high-risk cardiac patients.
The evolution of HealthTap, an interactive health app, is further evidence of the progress that has already been made toward virtual care. When HealthTap launched five years ago, it operated as a question-and-answer site where users could get responses to their medical queries from peer-reviewed physicians. HealthTap then introduced a new service, offering subscribers unlimited access to video consultations with physicians. It claims that subscribers can speak with a physician within a few minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. HealthTap’s video service offers a template for how virtual care might work, allowing patients to consult physicians without leaving their homes.
Although promised for years, virtual care is now starting to achieve product-market fit. More than half of US states have now passed bills that require health insurers to treat virtual care services as equivalent to face-to-face consultations when reimbursing their customers.
Obstacles still remain before virtual care can achieve a truly transformational impact. Some of the restraining forces include continued reimbursement challenges, data interoperability and security, physician adoption and patients’ health literacy. But virtual care usage continues to accelerate for a number of reasons. First, the very nature of the offering broadens access to healthcare services, especially for those in remote rural areas or some emerging countries. Second, early studies have shown that patients are using virtual visits to replace emergency department, urgent-care and office visits, often in return for a discount.²
It’s been estimated that the value of the global connected home market will increase to $71 billion by 2018, up from $33 billion in 2015, driven largely by demand for entertainment, security and control systems.³ The connected home consists of smart appliances and devices that can communicate with one another and operate independently when instructed to do so. Traditionally, the applications that have been thought up for connected home systems have tended to relate to the homeowner’s comfort, safety and entertainment, but the connected home has huge potential to offer healthcare services too.
With an ageing population and an increasing prevalence of chronic conditions, there will be a sizeable market for firms that can build healthcare applications using connected home technology and applications that allow the elderly or chronic population to ‘age in place’.
The ‘TEKI’ project
Like many other regions around the world, Spain’s Basque Country has an increasing number of elderly citizens, straining the limited resources of the health system. Developed by Accenture with its partner Microsoft, the TEKI project allows patients to stay connected to their care team via an Internet-linked Microsoft Kinect unit. On a regular basis, patients communicate with their physician using video conferencing, voice communications or text messaging via an interface on their TV screen. Additionally, the interface allows patients to complete symptom-related questionnaires by gesture control, perform prescribed rehabilitative exercises and check vitals. The control study saved $55 million.⁴
1. Evans, Dave, “The Internet of Things: How the Next Evolution of the Internet Is Changing Everything”, Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group, April 2011, https://www.cisco.com/web/about/ac79/docs/innov/IoT_IBSG_0411FINAL.pdf.
2. Tahir, Darius, “Virtual visits cheaper, even if other factors considered”, December 12, 2014, http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20141212/NEWS/312129960
3. “Smart Home Revenue to Reach $71 Billion by 2018, Juniper Research Finds”, Juniper Research, February 11, 2014, http://www.juniperresearch.com/press-release/smart-home-pr1
4. Cusano, Donna, “Telehealth saves $55 million in the Basque Country”, Telehealth & Telecare Aware, November 16, 2013, http://telecareaware.com/telehealth-saves-55-million-in-the-basque-country/
Healthcare is one of six industries (along with automotive, consumer, electricity, logistics and media) that have been the focus of the World Economic Forum’s Digital Transformation of Industries (DTI) 2016 project. An overview of the DTI program can be found here.
Our in-depth findings about the digital transformation of the healthcare industry are available in a white paper, which can be downloaded here.
To explore a selection of related articles and case studies, please select one of the tags below.