Harnessing technology to develop new patient education programs may be critical in the move toward Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs).
With nearly three-fourths of health systems reporting that creating an ACO is a top priority, we marketers are scrambling to unravel what this means for us. While not everyone is a fan, there seems to be a lot of discussion about what ACOs will look like if they are truly patient-centered.
It’s no secret that Medicare is pushing the ACO concept through pilot projects and encouraging the shift from fee-for-service payments to global payments for reimbursement. Because many cardiovascular patients fall into the Medicare category, I found this post about the head of Medicare, Don Berwick, interesting.
In an article last year, Berwick defined patient-centered care as “They give me exactly the help I need and want exactly when and how I need and want it.”
He talked about patient-centered care focusing on operational changes like:
- no restrictions on hospital visiting hours;
- inpatients choosing the food and clothes they wanted;
- patients participating in rounds and the design of medical services;
- patients really owning their medical records;
- and patients and doctors universally using shared decision-making aids so patients could make wise choices knowing the inevitable trade-offs involved in picking a treatment.
In order to make these practices work, patient education and self-management programs would have to go far beyond traditional wellness curriculums. That’s where technology comes in.
Patients could harness their smart phones’ computing power, audio, video, motion sensors, and GPS modules to explore new ways to self-manage their health and wellness. There are currently smart phone applications for fitness and weight control, diabetes management, sleep hygiene, stress reduction, and heart health, with more showing up all the time.
One physician envisions technology will go even further in the ACO world. Dr. Joseph Kvedar of Harvard’s Center for Connected Health believes that we will need to use robots and avatars to meet the manpower needs of taking care of all the retiring Baby Boomers.
In his keynote address at the 2010 Health Symposium, he talks about a successful walking program in which participants are guided by a virtual coach, an avatar named Karen.
Dr. Kvedar acknowledges his ideas may make caregivers uncomfortable, but his concept of emotional automation is actually an extension of the “trusting relationships with technology” that people are already forming with smartphones and other devices they count on for advice.
Regular readers of this blog know we’re working with clients every day to explore new apps and mobile engagement strategies. We’ve even helped one of our clients create a successful online walking program. (I can’t wait to tell the marketing director that we need to add an avatar coach this year.)
In all seriousness, though, in the real world where physician/staff shortages are colliding with exponential growth in patient-centered needs, Dr. Kvedar, may be onto something. If anyone is exploring these ideas in earnest or already incorporating virtual strategies into your marketing programs, please chime in.