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From Apples to Apps: How Technology Is Transforming Health Care

By Justin Gnau, MHSA, RHIA, Division CIO of Information Technology Services, St. Luke’s Health

July 12, 2023 Posted in: Leadership

As we near the first quarter of the 21st century, the future of health care looks increasingly high-tech. Digital companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon, are setting up shop in the health care space.

For example, people can order medications from Amazon’s pharmacy, and the company filed for a patent for an Alexa plug-in that identifies whether users are ill by detecting changes in their voice. Apple is enticing consumers with their health-monitoring watches. And “Dr. Google” has been playing a growing role in consumers diagnosing themselves … and rejecting their doctor’s recommendations.

With all this disruption, traditional hospitals and clinics are having to find ways to embrace the change in order to keep up with the increasingly high-tech future of health care.

Why the Disruption?

In 2021, the U.S. spent $4.3 trillion on health care, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. It’s no surprise digital companies would want a piece of that market.

Digital health care disrupters likely have a couple of goals:

  1. Lower health care costs for people and their employees 

  2. Own a piece of the health care market and determine ways to reduce costs for themselves while providing high-quality care (something hospitals are also trying to do)

One of the main challenges we’re seeing with a lot of those digital companies is that they're going after the primary care market, which is a growing segment of the health care industry. Companies such as CVS offer Minute Clinics in which most people are looking for a quick visit and a prescription. 

These digital companies may have greater aspirations, but their success in the broader health care industry will depend on whether they expand into other health care service lines. And that requires a lot more resources, innovation and physical locations than they currently have.

The Digital Appeal

It’s easy to guess why patients are drawn to digital health care services. Convenience and simplicity are likely the main reasons. When you have on-demand health care access in your pocket, making an appointment further in the future, driving to an office and waiting in a chair until it’s your turn to see the doctor is an outmoded option.

Another likely reason is cost. Digital health care disruptors like CVS’s Minute Clinics can offer services at a reduced and transparent cost, while many hospitals and traditional clinics are still hesitant to give patients information up front about what their care is going to cost.

How Can Health Systems Keep Up?

For now, brick-and-mortar hospitals and clinics will always be the go-to health care provider for emergency care and chronic conditions that require a deeper dive into someone’s health. However, in the primary care space, health systems need to embrace the technology patients want and offer services such as telehealth and virtual visits that make it easier for patients to schedule appointments online. Hospitals would also do well to offer and describe their price transparency. It’s also the law.

Technology Improvements at St. Luke’s Health

St. Luke’s Health has embraced the technology shift by offering the public price transparency and tools to help patients get an idea of what their health care will cost with or without insurance coverage. For patients who need emergency care for non-life-threatening conditions, we now have an ER Online Check-in tool that saves time and allows patients to wait at home instead of a waiting room, for non-life-threatening emergencies.

Telemedicine and virtual patient care visits are also available at St. Luke’s Health. The technology allows one-on-one real-time video conferencing between patients and physicians or doctor to doctor over secure internet connections. The technology also makes us more efficient; for example, clinical staff can use virtual care functions to augment our staff on the floors or in our clinics. This lets us offer better patient experiences and outcomes and reduce stress for doctors and nurses. Some examples of our technology offerings include:

  • A virtual preceptorship allows experienced nursing staff to aid new nurses through a virtual environment.

  • A virtual RN helps speed up the discharge process by allowing several steps to occur prior to human interaction.

  • Artificial Intelligence, specifically with our stroke teams, helps identify and provide crucial information faster, allowing staff to quickly make informed decisions for the patient which leads to improved outcomes for the patient.

  • Emergency Department technology can pre-screen patients and provide information that’s readily available from the first moment of human interaction.

  • Online scheduling and e-Check-In allows our patients to find the most convenient appointment possible while also ensuring all information is collected up front so they can be seen immediately upon arrival. 

Digital health care is ever evolving, and it’s important to take advantage of what’s available to make the patient experience better. At St. Luke’s Health, our goal is to communicate and connect with our patients wherever they are so we can deliver a solution that’s best for them.

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