The number of tools to track patient health data has exploded in recent years, and the race to access that information is heating up.
The Walgreens pharmacy chain last week launched its Walgreens Connect app, which allows participants in its Balance Rewards program to get 20 points each time they take their blood pressure or test their blood sugar with a branded monitor they can purchase in-store.
The move is one prong of Walgreens' larger digital and telehealth strategy, which also includes offering telemedicine services through its partnership with MDLive. The pharmacy giant recently expanded that relationship into 20 additional states, bringing the total number to 25. It also has a partnership with WebMD to offer virtual wellness coaching sessions.
“It's the care experience that consumers will expect in the future,” said Adam Pellegrini, Walgreens' divisional vice president of digital health. “We see an unmet need from our consumer base to have care delivered anywhere.”
Data collected through the Walgreens Connect app is stored in the cloud through a partnership with Qualcomm. Balance Rewards points can be redeemed for money off store purchases.
“We know that if you reward small, simple behaviors, you can increase adherence to the clinical protocol,” Pellegrini said.
Software developers are making it easier to gather and use patient information. Companies like Welltok and Validic have built a business model of creating a single entry point for providers, insurers and employers to access a wealth of patient data from sources ranging from FitBit to dLife.
Other innovators are trying to address the sheer volume of data so providers don't become overwhelmed by it. Stage 3 of the meaningful-use rules also encourages the use of patient-generated data in electronic health records.
Achieving meaningful use will be a component of physicians' compensation under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, which Congress passed earlier this year to replace the sustainable growth-rate formula.
Other technology companies are also working to give providers, and patients, a leg up.
IBM Watson in September launched the Watson Care Manager, which can collect data from wearable and remote monitoring devices and identify which patients might need early intervention.
“Data is the new money,” said Harry Wang, director of health and mobile product research at Parks Associates, a consulting firm.
“The healthcare industry is residing in silos, and the data also resides in silos. There's a huge opportunity to harmonize data sources,” Wang said.
The competition is coming not only from providers and insurers, which have incentives to keep patients healthy under value-based payment models, but also pharmaceutical and medical-device companies that need to demonstrate comparative effectiveness through the real-world use of their products, Wang said.
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries in September acquired Gecko Health Innovations, which makes the CareTRx program.
The tool consists of a hardware device that attaches to an asthma inhaler and a software program that stores data.
The tool will improve patient adherence and compliance, the respiratory therapy developer said in announcing the deal.
Pharmacies such as Walgreens, meanwhile, are a regular point of contact for patients with chronic conditions, Wang noted. That position is valuable not only for retaining customers but in forging partnerships with other healthcare players.
“They are a bridge between the health systems and consumers' everyday life,” he said. “They become the go-to destination for consumers, and they can be a one-stop destination for their partners.”
Walgreens isn't currently partnering with any healthcare systems to share the data but could do so in the future, Pellegrini said.
“Right now, we're sticking to self-management,” he added. “We are looking in the future to connecting with providers, but it has to be done in a thoughtful way.”
While multiple stakeholders are competing for patient data, the question remains whether consumers will be willing to share that information, especially with their insurance companies or employers.
Only 5% of people are actually using devices that can share their health information, Wang said.
Not only are these products expensive, but consumers are skeptical about who will have access to their data and whether it could be used to penalize them, he added.