Fifty years ago, there were no Electronic Health Records (EHRs). That was soon to change, though, as academic medical centers started prototyping the first systems in the 60s and 70s. In 2009, EHRs were incentivized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and over the next four years, they swept the industry. The number of hospitals using an EHR rushed from 16 percent to 80.

This was no small innovation. By integrating disparate patient data systems into centralized platforms, EHRs reduced medical errors, improved patient outcomes and made health care altogether more efficient. It’s just one example of how technology continues to revolutionize health care and benefits strategy … and it raises two important questions.

1. How have group benefits changed in response to tech?

There’s no question that technology has opened up new health care and group benefits possibilities. Consider telemedicine: through video consultation, patients can be assessed in their homes, or at a workplace kiosk, without scheduling a doctor’s visit. As a result:

  • Patients in rural areas have easier, faster access to care.
  • Patients can access care without taking as much (if any) time off work.
  • Preventative treatment is more accessible and likely to be used.
  • Traditional office costs are minimized, making overhead lighter and cost of care less expensive.
  • Outcomes are improved. According to Becker’s Health IT & CIO Review:

“A large-scale study published in CHEST Journal shows patients in an intensive care unit equipped with telehealth services were discharged from the ICU 20 percent more quickly and saw a 26 percent lower mortality rate than patients in a regular ICU.”

Transformative innovations aren’t confined to video calls. For example, the company Theranos has developed “a revolutionary approach to the blood test” which could lower the cost of blood-work, making it more accessible to low-income patients. In so doing, “Theranos could upend the branch of medicine that provides the data used in roughly 70 percent of medical decisions.”

2. How has technology changed our ability to understand human health?

Tech innovation has not only changed how health care is accessed and delivered; it’s also changed our ability to understand the condition of the body. For example, take wireless home monitoring devices like iRhythm and Fitbit.

Patients can use iRhythm to detect arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation (AFib). Since as many as one-third of Americans have an arrhythmia and don’t know it, this cardiac monitor patch can alert them much earlier, so they can reduce the risk of related conditions (like stroke). The result? Better health, lower costs.

Meanwhile, Fitbit tracks physical activity, diet, weight and sleep throughout each day, making it possible for users to understand how small choices (e.g., taking the stairs) contribute to their overarching health goals. Countless other apps encourage consistent daily fitness. That knowledge isn’t just enlightening; it’s motivating. For employers who offer group benefits, these innovations offer exciting wellness opportunities and new ways to achieve their overall group benefits strategy.

Apps like these are of particular interest to the physician-scientist Daniel Kraft. In a recent TED talk, he explained how cross-disciplinary, exponentially-growing technologies can be leveraged to address some of health care’s major challenges.

  • Health care apps offer immense depth of insight into pathology, disease and therapy.
  • They give patients a more convenient way to monitor their health, from STD-testing to glucose-monitoring.
  • They provide doctors with an unprecedented new vantage point, like being able to look inside the body and observe it in real-time.
  • This insight makes it possible to understand the impacts of everything from “medication to meditation,” Kraft said, in much more faceted way.

At the end of the day, innovation in health care is a success if it can empower the patient, enable the physician, improve the health of those seeking care, and cure those who are well before they get sick. This is the essence of P4 Medicine, which is Predictive, Preventive, Personalized, Participatory.

Can technology in health care accomplish these goals in group benefits? Time will tell, but at BeaconPath, we feel optimistic that the future looks bright for employers who deploy a purposeful group benefits strategy. To help promote workplace wellness, download and distribute our “Apps for Life” handout to your team. It highlights seven inspiring apps to help everyone live a little healthier.

Want to explore ways to add innovation to your group benefits and workplace wellness plans? Contact us. And, if you haven’t already done so, subscribe to our blog in the top right corner of this screen.

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