While I’m rarely an early adopter, I tend to be a fast-follower of technology when it suits me. Right now, that means SMAC – social, mobile, analytics, and cloud. I’m active on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, keeping me in touch with friends, family, and colleagues. I have mobile devices in my pocket, attached to my clothing, and even on my dog’s collar. I use Strava to analyze every bike ride, breaking each down into segments comparing my performance against my friends and my prior efforts. And every night, my photos, music, and files get backed up into the cloud.
I use these resources not because they are cool, but because each provides me with clear value. Consumers have seen other industries like entertainment, consumer goods, and banking use SMAC technologies to improve service, increase efficiency, and generate savings.
So, where does health care stack up against these other industries in its use of SMAC? Our recent paper “SMAC: Better together” looks at how the health care industry can use these same tech tools to their advantage. Specifically, we looked at the opportunities and challenges for SMAC in four operational areas that provided the greatest chance of cost savings:
- Next-generation supply chain
- Research and development (R&D)
- Care coordination
- Digital payments
Creating a next generation supply chain: Health care providers and drug and device manufacturers can make their supply chains more data-driven, secure, and efficient. Health systems spend 30 to 40 percent of their operating budget on supply chain-related expenses. Hospitals can use SMAC tools to optimize the supply chain process. For example, cloud computing can enable track-and-trace systems that require processing large amounts of data in real time. Concord Hospital tracked its medical and surgical supplies and was able to reduce its inventory by 13 percent, with the largest decreases occurring in some of its most expensive departments: surgery, ICU, and emergency.
Enhancing research & development: SMAC tools also can support R&D efforts by improving collaboration among researchers and patients, which reduces the time and cost to get treatments to market. For example, organizations can use analytics to tailor treatments for specific patient populations. Pfizer has used analytics to tailor a lung cancer drug for a subset of patients. The company received approval for this drug from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) based on clinical trials for only 255 patients, rather than the thousands conventionally needed. This reduced the time from discovery to approval to three years, less than half the typical timeframe. Similarly, Johnson & Johnson, uses social media channels to communicate with the public and proactively address complaints. Apps and social media can capture real-time data (including call notes and follow-up actions from physician interactions) and allow clinical trial participants and patients to more easily document and share ongoing results of their treatments and drug side effects.
Improving care coordination: Social media platforms can provide patients with additional information to help them communicate with clinicians, and mobile devices can be used to collect, display, and deploy information when patients need it the most. For instance, in a pilot at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, physicians received patient allergy alerts on Google Glass at the patient’s bedside before administering medication. Social data can also be used to improve care. For example, patient-generated data on sites such as Facebook can be tracked for indicators such as fitness and mental health, and this data can be used to better target treatments and other types of support to improve care. The US Department of Veterans Affairs uses this type of data on Facebook posts to identify potential suicide risks.
Streamlining operations through digital payments: Finally, digital health care payments provide the opportunity to streamline the roughly $2.1 trillion (in 2011) payment market. The current manual, paper-based patient billing infrastructure that many health systems use will not be able to keep up with the anticipated growth of payments, reaching $5 trillion by 2022. Stakeholders are beginning to invest in automated payment technology solutions, including portals, mobile apps, and analytics platforms. For example, InstaMed automates account receivables processes and provides analytics-based reporting and solutions to identify a consumer’s payment responsibility, making the process smoother for consumers and providers.
The SMAC tools I use, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, mobile apps, and cloud services, allow me to seamlessly share information with my family and friends, back up sentimental files, and push me to workout harder and longer. While these benefits may not be life changing for one user, in aggregate, their potential could be limitless. Health care stakeholders can better realize the full value of SMAC tools when they use its component technologies to capture data, disseminate information, apply knowledge, and store collected information. Health care organizations can use the data from these tools to reduce costs, accelerate R&D, improve care coordination, and upgrade payment systems. While challenges in privacy and security, liability, organizational change, and consolidation may exist, for many health care organizations and for consumers, the risk may be worth the reward. Adopting these efforts could change lives for the better.