Technology is the new health workforce multiplier

An influx of 25 million newly insured patients over the next decade may lead to a physician shortage.

Healthcare organizations are adopting technology to deal with the rising demand for services and redefining how medicine is practiced. This changing landscape requires new workforce capabilities that stretch beyond traditional clinical roles by using convenient, consumer-focused technologies.

For more information, read HRI’s reports on talent in the biopharmaceutical and health IT sectors.

What are the implications?

Consumers turn to technology to communicate with providers
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Implications of workforce multipliers:

  • Engage with patients digitally to extend workforce reach.
  • Deploy people and technology closer to consumers. Affordable and convenient care alternatives, such as retail clinics, are growing in popularity.
  • Engage resources and apply principles from technology, retail and hospitality industries to exceed customer expectations.
  • Reduce barriers to working at full capacity. States may consider reassessing scope of practice laws so physician assistants, nurse practitioners and pharmacists can fill gaps.

Propeller Health improves respiratory disease management

Asthma is taking a toll on the United States. More than 25 million suffer from the chronic condition, triggering 10 million physician office visits, two million ER visits, 500,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year. The disease costs the nation about $56 billion a year in medical costs and lost productivity. Poor patient adherence is one contributing factor— up to 50% of patients do not take medication as prescribed.

Patients can avoid attacks if they know how to manage the condition and avoid certain triggers. In the past, patients were asked to keep daily written logs of symptoms, frequency of attacks, and reaction to therapy. Patients had difficulty sticking with the system, leading doctors to question the reliability of the data. But patients using an electronic diary showed consistently higher adherence in one recent study, suggesting patients were eager for a more convenient tool.

Propeller Health is hoping technology can fill the gaps. The company received FDA clearance in 2012 to market its platform device for respiratory diseases, including asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), to patients, doctors, and hospitals. Some insurers and public health agencies are smoothing the way by providing enabling access to the devices for patients with asthma.

A small, portable device that fits on top of inhalers uses GPS, Bluetooth-enabled sensors, and a mobile app to help patients and doctors manage asthma through accurate trigger and symptom tracking. Text messages and pop up alerts via smartphones remind patients to take their medication and log their symptoms.

Automating the chore of tracking medications, symptoms, and other data could be a game changer. Propeller keeps track of medication use by taking a digital snapshot of the time and location of inhaler use. The system shares this information with physicians. Propeller Health also offers ongoing educational outreach through email, text, mobile apps, and phone calls with certified asthma educators. Physicians can remotely monitor asthma symptoms and how well their patients are sticking to their medication schedule. Physicians can also set up customized alerts if a patient’s condition deteriorates.

“One of the biggest challenges for patients with asthma is the cost of their medications,” said Dr. Alan Leff, professor emeritus at University of Chicago Medicine and a pulmonary specialist. The cost of asthma medication can easily exceed $1,500 per year. Costs climb higher for patients who fail to control their disease. Propeller Health estimates that its approach can reduce annual costs $4,000 to $6,000 per member, making it attractive to health plans. Amerigroup Florida, a WellPoint plan, recently invited a targeted group of members to participate in a new asthma management program with the Propeller tools.

New medical technologies always take time to diffuse into patient and provider acceptance. Propeller Health’s approach improves patient awareness of triggers, is more convenient for the patient, and has the potential to lower other medical costs.