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The new patient destination: Digital health

Estimated reading time 4 minutes

Written by Debra Williams

Microsoft's acquisition of the voice-based AI and speech recognition company Nuance is just hte latest action taken by big tech firms to expand their digital health capabilities and bring rich, data-driven patient and clinician experiences to life.

After being on the fringe for decades, telehealth's moment arrived earlier this year. The pandemic vaulted telehealth to a required staple of a provider's capability and we saw a 15 to 20x increase in virtual visits volume related to telehealth. Medical Economics reports that more than 80% of 1,800 patients expect to use telehealth after the pandemic is over. An Accenture survey last July reported nine out of 10 patients as saying their telehealth visit was as good or better than t heir physical visit before the pandemic.

Most providers upgraded their telehealth solutions as needed, but just as they did, the train was seen leaving the station for a new patient destination: 'Digital Health.'

Nuance acquisition amplifies the digital health journey

Avanade is building and delivering digital health capabilities today for clients on the Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare. Microsoft's acquisition of Nuance, the leading provider of conversational AI expands the art of the possible for voice and data-driven experiences in health. The Nuance capability will complement Microsoft Teams, Azure and Dynamics to create more voice-basaed AI solutions for providers.

The time is NOW for digital health

A key finding from the survey referenced above is that patients "want to use technology more to communicate with healthcare providers and manage their condition in the future." What is so exciting about that statement is the technology is here, now, for providers -- from telehealth to digital health. Frankly, the technology for digital health was here before the pandemic. What was not here yet were patients, providers, and payors willing to welcome more technology in the health journey.

Healthcare providers tended to be skeptical that 'more technology' would help them because of recent poor experience caused by low bandwidth, forced EMR adoption, siloed data, and other challenges. During the pandemic, providers were forced to use more technology and found faster networks, improved voice recognition, data interoperability, artificial intelligence (A), the Internet of Things (IoT) and other advancements can uplift the patient and clinician experience.

The looks and feel of digital health

Experiences really are all about look and feel. The feeling to strive for in digital health is one of patient empowerment, care team collaboration and better clinical insights. Each of these components is powered by video, voice, data, AI, IoT, machine learning, secure integration and massive cloud-computing.

Here's an example of how telehealth is evolving to digital health for a US health provider:

  • Patients can schedule virtual visits on their own in a patient portal whenever they wish. No waiting for office hours to call and schedule; no need to talk to anyone.

  • The patient is texted and/or emailed an appointment link. They can access the link from any mobile operating system (e.g., IOS or Android) or web browser (e.g., Safari, Edge, or Chrome.)

  • To start appointment, patient clicks link and enters a branded virtual lobby. The patient is prompted to complete online forms with an option to voice over typed answers.

  • While in the virtual lobby, patients are asked questions to help with the experience. For example, "Would you like a translator for the appointment?" Translation can be via closed captions or a live translator added to the visits. Patients can also request family, caregiver or friend be added to their visit.

  • Once the patient completes all forms, a clinician is alerted the patient is ready. This prevents the clinician from joining the appointment too early or from joining "no-show" appointments.

  • Before the start of the visit, data is collected from the patients' last visits, their wearables and/or home medical devices or third-party tests. Information is summarized and sent to the clinician in preparation for the visit.

  • An AI-powered virtual assistant transcribe and records the clinician-patient conversation. The virtual assistant can fill in any standard forms automatically and upload records and forms to the EMR.

  • The clinician's voice can activate the AI-powered virtual assistant to do multiple tasks such as create a referral to a specialist, schedule a test or send a prescription.

  • Since the visit is virtual and digital, the visit itself creates multiple data points. These data points can include the length of visit, clinicians involved, visit results and the opportunity to use data for precision and personalized medicine is created.

  • The patient is sent a link after the visit to access the portal and their records with portability of care in mind. Patients want access, control and portability of car with transparency of costs.

  • The patients' health insurer is sent a record of the visit with the idea of patient empowerment in mind. Patients on high deductible plans may want to actively shop for follow-up services.

We've come too far to go back

While past events have been difficult, it has accelerated and advanced the adoption and technologies in telehealth by many orders of magnitude in a short period of time. There's no going back and in fact consumers are seeking greater use of technology to govern their health journey. Digital health capability is here today and is the patient's next destination.

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