Modern healthcare is riddled with challenges and stories of the system failing patients. That’s hardly news. What may be surprising, however, is to discover just how inefficient and disconnected patients and care providers really are. In spite of all our efforts to be more patient-centric and to leverage recent technological advancements (mobile phones, apps, IoT), physicians and patients are still incredibly disconnected from each other.
To put things into perspective, the typical American sees a doctor about 4 times per year. A closer analysis reveals that US patients spend a mere 16 minutes on average per physician consultation. Add that up and you get just over an hour of face-to-face time per year, per patient. Looking at it a different way, there are 8,760 hours in a year. We therefore only spend, on average, one of those hours in direct contact with a physician. That comes up to 0.01% of our “annual time” yet many spend between 10% and 20% of their annual disposable income on health insurance and health-related expenses. In fact, the US economy spends a combined total of over 17% of its GDP on healthcare.
Such figures are startling for two reasons. First, US doctor visits are surprisingly low, especially when compared with figures from other developed countries like Germany or Japan (hardly countries with a greater prevalence of hypochondriacs).
Secondly, and perhaps even more unsettlingly, these figures beg the question of what exactly happens between these (infrequent) visits? After all, health is not usually a binary thing where you’re doing fine one day and bad the next. Most of our health systems and resources are consumed by patients with chronic diseases which daily have them teetering on the edge of an acute incident. Think of conditions such as diabetes, COPD, asthma, depression, … According to AHRQ, just 5% of the US population accounts for almost half (49 percent) of total health care expenses. Similarly, the 15 most expensive health conditions (most of them chronic diseases) account for 44 percent of total health care expenses.
Between medical visits, physicians have little or no quantitative or qualitative data as to their patient’s daily condition. Are they complying with their medication regimens? Are they having any side effects or seeing only mild results? What is their general state, both physically and emotionally? Are things deteriorating or stable? Are they exercising, eating or sleeping well? Almost all of these types of questions currently go unanswered and/or un-tracked. Physicians see patients either when they set an arbitrary follow-up appointment or when the patient’s condition has deteriorated enough for them to call-in. By then it is often late (remember, Americans don’t like visiting doctors and many avoid visits for economic reasons) and the physician only has the patient’s word/testimony to fill in the gaps between their last visit. Few physicians are readily accessible for phone consultations and only 13% ever communicate with their patients via e-mail.
Meanwhile, patients may also feel disconnected and disengaged from not only their care providers, but also from their very own therapy. Do they get daily reminders/tips/encouragement? Are they tracking their own history of compliance and overall health/wellbeing? Are they easily getting answers to their occasional questions, however silly or trivial? Do they feel someone or something is watching over them and is available on THEIR schedule?
This daily communication gap (chasm?) between patients and caregivers is a situation begging for a technological solution that can genuinely transform the patient engagement experience. While the advent of mobile health, phone apps and IoT have each promised to make patients healthier and more engaged, none have been able to create a truly integrated and bi-directional communication platform. Connected applications and devices are usually standalone, poorly integrated with each other and often only provide information back to users. “Congratulations! You took 4,327 steps today!” So what? Does this information go into my record? Does my physician get to see it? Now what?
What patients and care givers need is a truly engaging communication platform which can educate, inform, measure, track, coach and even listen IN BETWEEN medical visits. So what technology can do all this? Chatbots can.
Chatbots, are the next logical evolution in patient engagement. Riding on ubiquitous messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger with over 1 billion active users and leveraging emerging Artificial Intelligence capabilities, Chatbots are uniquely poised to reinvigorate patient communication & engagement, and thereby transform healthcare. The benefits of Chatbots have by now been well documented (Click here for an earlier article on how they promise to change HealthTech). Here again are the main reasons why Chatbots are particularly well suited for healthcare applications:
1. Unlike with Apps, no downloads or updates are needed
2. Most people already have messaging apps installed on their smart phones and use them daily
3. Chatbots can leverage the increasing power of artificial intelligence, making conversations more natural and the experience more personalized
4. Chatbots are, by definition, conversational and highly interactive. That’s something we humans can more easily relate to.
5. They are extremely easy to use. If you’ve ever sent a text message or clicked a “like” button, you already know how to use them.
6. They are accessible anywhere and anytime.
7. For developers, Chatbots are extremely easy, fast and cost-effective to create.
Although Chatbots are still a relatively new and emerging communication tool/platform, the potential benefits to Healthcare are both wide and profound. These are still early days yet we can already foresee how Chatbots will:
· Automate low-value, Customer Service tasks (e.g. patient FAQs, appointment setting, checklists)
· Track patient/user satisfaction levels (e.g. via quick Messenger surveys)
· Monitor patient therapy compliance (e.g. via daily reminders and by tracking use)
· More quickly identify potential drug side-effects (e.g. via real-time reported symptoms)
· Improve outcomes (e.g. through caregiver & family alerts and notifications)
· Create new revenue streams (e.g. through innovative coaching, education and support programs)
· Enhance the quality of face-to-face consultations (e.g. by allowing clinicians to review the full history of patient therapy compliance, wellness and activities since their last visit)
· ENGAGE PATIENTS through informational, interactive and entertaining two-way conversations
At Medtech Mojo, we are developing the first-ever Healthcare-dedicated patient engagement platform that is based on the very latest Chatbot technologies and capabilities. With our combined 45+ years of Medtech & Pharma experience, Pascal Malengrez and I are creating a digital health platform that enables anyone across the Healthcare spectrum to quickly and easily create their own Chatbot for patients. Zero programming required. To learn more and to register as one of the early Beta users, just click MojoBots.
Andrew Hyncik is an International Strategic Marketing & Product Development veteran with 20+ years of experience in the MedTech, Healthcare and Pharma industries. For more Medtech insights and original articles, visit Medtech Mojo Better yet, try our very own Medtech Mojo chatbot here.
Andrew Hyncik and Pascal Malengrez are International Strategic Marketing & Product Development leaders who amplify classical medtech marketing with digital startup thinking.