Industry Focus: Readmission and Emergency Departments
Almost no professional industry has been immune to the impacts of the digital waves of the past few decades; healthcare is one such industry that has been particularly affected. This article outlines the ways in which digital health has changed the face of traditional health and medicine, with particular emphasis on the effects on readmissions and emergency health, and what this means for job-seekers in this new digitized market.
The Digital Evolution of the Healthcare Market
The biggest way in which digitization has transformed healthcare is by changing the way professionals and patients approach illness or health. Whereas traditionally, medical professional treated illnesses as they occurred and as symptoms began to show, now there is a greater stress on prediction and prevention.
According to technology and futurist speaker Daniel Burrus, digital health technologies have made it much easier to anticipate health issues in advance or at least to uncover the true, otherwise often murky or invisible causes behind ailments. Hospitals, doctors, patients, and caretakers all have access to a wider range of data than ever before, and just having more relevant information can help improve the experience and outcomes for all parties involved.
The Digitization of Healthcare
Digitization in healthcare is an ongoing process that we can expect to continue into the future, but certain impactful innovations have already indicated the direction of growth of the market. A prime example is wearable technology, from devices such as blood sugar level monitors and pedometers and heart monitors to smart watches such as Apple Watch and Fitbits. Such devices have the capacity to collect, store, and send a huge amount of data that is likely to be of great use for the concerned individuals when it comes to decision making. Similarly, the ever-expanding availability of Health apps allows people to track their basic health statistics from the comfort of their everyday home environment and get advice and encouragement, which is instrumental in maintaining good health. Newer technologies are allowing for easier communication between patients and medical professionals, with the rise of remote monitoring and diagnostics, for example.
Companies and Startups in Digital Health
Behind this innovation are hundreds of companies; some of the major players include:
- IBM has been at the forefront of digital healthcare, partnering with both institutions such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and reputed companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Medtronic.
- Alignment Healthcare has come out as one of the leading companies in digital health, selling solutions to Medicare based on proprietary machine-learning technology.
- Companies such as the startup NUNA have already risen, specializing in analytics and data aggregation, such as providing a cloud-based platform for Medicaid.
- Pulsara focuses on care coordination across providers and caregivers. It centers on solutions for patients with ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarctions, strokes, and those requiring emergency medical services.
- Avizia deals with telemedicine or the delivery of healthcare through non-physical means using virtual healthcare platforms, telehealth carts, and more.
- Netgain, a healthcare and financial IT Cloud Management company that helps healthcare providers assess, integrate, and manage information and manage administrative tools.
- AliveCor, a company that focuses on wearables and biosensing with products such as the Kardia Mobile EKG.
These firms just represent the tip of the iceberg, as there are many IT and health giants as well as startups paving their way in digital healthcare. Altogether, these changes point towards a trend of patients taking healthcare further into their own hands, as well as healthcare professionals obtaining the wherewithal to provide more educated and targeted services.
How Does Digital Health Help the Management of Readmissions and Emergencies?
Patients that have encountered a health difficulty once generally have higher chances of requiring medical attention for similar reasons in the future. According to the CEO of medical messaging app Pingmd Gopal Chopra, admissions often occur because of changes in the patient’s condition that go undetected; understanding these risks, digital health has and can further be utilized such that the need for such readmissions is reduced.
For instance, mobile health applications as well as wearable technology can be used to track patient performance post discharge for those conditions in which patients are more likely to experience short-term readmissions. This can provide a simple platform for the patient to get quick but reliable information from healthcare professionals, or to check whether patients have been adhering to their medication or diet and exercise plans as instructed. This has been proven to be effective: for example, a study by mhealth providers mscript and Avella Specialty Pharmacy has shown that adherence to anti-retroviral therapy in HIV patients improved three-fold using mobile health technology while a study by Penn Medicine showed that such 30-day readmission dates for congestive heart failure patients decreased by a strong 53%.
Health apps can also be used as educational tools, helping at-risk patients understand implications and instructions better through visual and auditory means, or facilitating direct follow-ups using video conferencing or text-based notifications. Another approach is to also organize communication teams using these technologies, bringing together specialists, care-givers, patients, and staff to manage speedy and efficient communication. Connecting remote patients to providers in these ways makes it possible to prevent relapses for those in remission by maintaining the conditions required to encourage recovery or allows health interventions to take place in a timely manner. Preventing readmissions can prove financially beneficial to both providers and patients, and reduces further risks and complications.
The same ideas can be applied in a similar way to manage emergency departments more efficiently. For many patients, the length of time having to wait for care in A&E is unsatisfactory. Using data obtained via digital healthcare technologies, staff in emergency departments can work more efficiently to identify what is wrong with patients and deliver quick care to improve the flow without compromising quality. It also helps staff sort out the non-critical patients from those who require immediate attention, helping prioritize so that all patients can return with their problems addressed to the best of the hospital’s capabilities.
Telemedicine in particular can go a long way in reducing congestion and delivering more personalized care. Already, developments such as a predictive analytics simulator by University of Florida researchers and implementation of IBM’s Watson in healthcare contexts have indicated how the ER might benefit from digitization.
Such automation using machines that can access electronic health records and process information from incoming patients about their troubles can help streamline the path of care and also identify pertinent details such as the availability of physicians and beds, or distinguish between low-acuity patients and those requiring more intensive care so that management becomes smoother.
Opportunities In The Job Market Created By Digital Healthcare
Digital healthcare has opened up so many possibilities, many of which are being implemented but many of which also need further development. Companies who have endeavored in delivering technological solutions in healthcare are growing in number, which is creating opportunities for those with insight into healthcare needs and demands as well as for those who have the skills needed to design and polish these solutions. Having certified qualifications in those areas further increases chances of getting significantly higher-paying positions, based on a report from HealthITJobs.
University programs that can help you in this area
- Digital Health or Health Technology as a program in itself is on offer from several universities, such as Tufts, Cornell University, Algonquin College, University of Queensland, and so on.
- Universities such as the University of Colorado Denver, Boston University, and Drury University are also offering degrees in subsets of digital healthcare, such as Innovations in Digital Health or Digital Health Communications.
- IT programs too are highly sought after. A degree as a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) or a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CISCO) for example can be of use in the healthcare IT market.
- If you already have a background in healthcare or IT or both, credentials such as Project Management Professional (PMP) can help you stand out to companies with digital health projects.
- Participating in programs in Healthcare Informatics can also be lucrative. Lots of universities, from the University of Washington to the School of Health and Rehabilitation Science and beyond offer such programs.
- Certification in medical coding and billing such as the AAPC’s Certified Professional Coder (CPC) degree or the AHIMA’s Certified Coding Specialist-Physician (CCSP) can also help land jobs in digital health, as can HIPAA/HITECH compliance degrees.
- University programs in cyber security are also in high demand in the industry. Universities from Harvard Extension School to Stanford to Georgia Tech and many more offer certification.
A key takeaway should be that digital disruption is already a reality with continued disruption inevitable as time goes, and there are a lot of doors open for job-seekers in areas such as developing secure and reliable solutions, data analytics and data defragmentation, transitioning in medical institutions, implementing necessary regulations, and so on.
Major job opportunities
- Information engineering. You can work as a database administrator and manage electronic health records, as a systems analyst or systems manager to oversee IT problems and offer IT solutions for healthcare professionals.
- Mobile app development. Mhealth apps have been quite successful and it is projected that mhealth growth will continue.
- Software application and software systems development. Digital healthcare solutions are often centered on tracking or communication software.
- Security and data protection. The industry requires professionals to help healthcare providers avoid data breaches and maintain patient confidentiality.
- Innovation and entrepreneurship. As a market yet to reach saturation point, there is room for new startups to thrive.
Health companies, life sciences and biotechnology firms, tech companies, and others—whether heavyweights or startups—have begun capitalizing on this new market. Digital healthcare has been converging technology with healthcare delivery, so there is increased demand for qualifications ranging from IT to business and beyond. Graduates and professionals with the right visions and capacities should be able to benefit highly from the growth of digital healthcare.