More than ever, providers can see patients in between visits, getting a look at all the times when patients were previously left on their own. That's thanks to digital tools, like step trackers and connected glucometers, which track patients continuously, and it's thanks also to the platforms that pull in information from these sources for health management.
A care platform that engages patients and providers alike
One of those platforms, made by Wellsmith, aims to connect patients and caregivers for chronic disease management. Through the platform, patients get digital care plans, which they engage with actively through an app and more passively through connected devices, like wearables. The app reminds patients to take medications and offers encouragement for meeting goals, among other parts of their provider-prescribed care plans.
On the other side, care teams can monitor patients, using real-time data to see the health decisions patients make when they're not sitting in hospitals or clinics. If a particular patient is struggling to meet objectives, the platform will alert the care team, so they can reach out. That makes it easier and quicker, for instance, to adjust medications, since providers can see in real-time how patients are doing.
Part of the drive to keep a closer eye on patients is the expected shift toward providers taking on more risk.
“Healthcare is now responsible for something it wasn't before, and that's outcomes,” Wellsmith CEO Jeanne Teshler said. “To go to value, you have to be able to measure outcomes in a real-time way, which is what we provide on the clinical side, and enable those outcomes to happen on the consumer side.”
That's why health systems that are taking on risk and payers might want to turn to platforms like Wellsmith's.
“Care management and remote patient monitoring are gaining traction because of the shift toward population health management,” said T.J. Ferrante, senior counsel with Foley & Lardner.
In fact, the global population health market was worth $13.9 billion in 2016, according to market-research firm Research and Markets.
So far, Wellsmith is working solely with Cone Health, a not-for-profit provider in North Carolina that's an investor in the company. Cone Health providers will use the platform for employees and patients with diabetes and, later, heart failure and COPD.
Within the next year, Teshler hopes to have three more “Cone-like” customers.
“With Wellsmith, we activate patients to become co-managers of their health, making decisions and understanding the impact,” said Dr. John Jenkins, Cone Health's chief clinical officer. “The technology is only a part of the picture. The people behind the technology and the way you operationalize the technology are critical.”
That may be true, but the technology is, nevertheless, crucial, Ferrante said. The overall concept of Wellsmith's platform—chronic care management and remote patient monitoring—is “fairly common,” he said. “What they do differently is a having a slick and user-friendly experience,” he said. “It seems to be a consumer-oriented model, where patients seem to like it, and that's a little bit different than what we've seen.”
The biggest limitation to such systems at this point, Ferrante said, is reimbursement.
But now that the Medicare fee schedule has new remote patient-monitoring codes, he said, more companies will be willing to get into the business, “because now there's an opportunity to monetize it in a different way.”
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