Imagine holding your psychiatrist or psychologist in the palm of your hand. But, wait. You really don’t have to imagine. Technology makes this a reality today, according to Ara Chackerian.
Your mental health specialist would actually reside at the other end of your hand-held device—i.e., your smartphone. Ara Chackerian, an entrepreneur and dedicated philanthropist committed to revolutionizing the U.S. healthcare system, sees an opportunity in smartphones that the industry cannot afford to ignore.
Much of his contention relates directly to the ubiquity of cell phones. Ownership of these devices has increased from 2 percent in 2005 to more than 65 percent today, according to the Pew Research Center.
The other corroborating half pertains to the advancement of data storage in today’s computers and their related support systems. For instance, the capability of crowding transistors onto a chip doubles every two years—posing a great potential for recording and assimilating massive, constant data of a person’s physical destinations, expressions, gestures, and verbalized thoughts—all part of the data a mental-health doctor uses to run through analytics in order to ascertain a patient’s mental condition.
Merely using phone communication logs and speech samples can enlighten doctors on a patient’s condition or volatility, according to a report in the journal Nature.
Indeed, apps for such monitoring loom in the very near future, according to an article penned by a British firm, DLA Piper, LLC, in Lexicology. Such smartphone apps can track mental health indicators as well as physical health signs, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar. If red flags appear in the view of the professional, a video chat with the patient can be easily arranged via the hand-held device. If the doctor detects a need for the patient to visit a clinic right away, it can be expedited thanks to the remote diagnosis provided by a smartphone.
Such instant analysis and response save time for the patient on the way to an accurate diagnosis and treatment regime. The latter being ascertained by comparing analytics from a vast mental health data storage bank.
This instant access leads to a higher probability of positive outcomes, according to the Lexicology article.
It May Seem Like Sci-Fi
However, the already widely distributed instrument—your cellphone—takes patient analysis to a level you might now only see in the movies.
Thanks to GPS systems and smartphones, doctors can analyze how a patient spends his or her time week in and week out. For instance, they can see how a person fighting depression divides his or her time between home, work, and other destinations. Time spent at each location and the number of locations can be logged. A doctor can gain insight into the patient’s volume of social activity and even the social networks visited by the patient.
Essentially, we are talking about a digital diagnosis. Providers can save immense amounts of time otherwise spent jamming on a computer keyboard between patient sessions. Less time recording and assimilating data means more time focusing on patient patterns and behaviors. In turn, this leads to a higher capability for doctors to prevent a patient crisis or treat it in time to mitigate such crises.
For the patient, behavioral and emotional data can be relayed directly to their doctors on the minute. Digital communication between the two can then be immediately transmitted to help the patient deal with his or her current emotional swing or dilemma.
Tech as a Servant to Doctor-Patient Relationship
In a Forbes article, Nitin Goyal, an orthopedic surgeon, notes that time saved on documentation and real-time counseling via smartphones only stands to strengthen the doctor-patient relationship.
Goyal said he already notices that insurance companies recognize the value in this digital wave as it relates to mental health. He states the value lies in an improved success rate, which subsequently reduces patient readmission.
The ready technology of smartphones, therefore, proves a win-win-win for provider, patient, and insurer. The latter is already investing heavily in this particular technological future, according to Goyal, who cites Humana and Kaiser Permanente as examples.
Meanwhile, Goyal cautions that technology, in this case, is not intended to replace face-to-face counseling and treatment. It is aimed at streamlining processes to improve patient engagement and success.
Moreover, privacy concerns stand to temper the extent to which digital analysis and diagnosis will be allowed. The industry must incumbently find the perfect balance between patient care and patient privacy.
Ara Chackerian, particularly, invests in early-stage healthcare companies that are committed to restructuring the U.S. healthcare system—especially in these pivotal times regarding national healthcare laws and provisions. Chackerian’s capacities as a founding member and executive officer for BMC Diagnostics, PipelineRx, Telepharmacy, and TMS Health Solutions contribute expert insight into the potential for digital communications to transform mental health care as we now know it.
Rock Health, a venture founded to fund and support enterprises providing bridges between healthcare and technology, notes that such entrepreneurs have already injected $3.5 billion into digital healthcare via investments in 188 digital health companies. Moreover, this infusion covers only the first half of 2017.
All of this leaves advocates and investors to wonder when the first initial public offering (IPO) from a digital health company will burst onto the scene. Clearly, this is an industry whose horizon is immense.
Investing in the healthcare industry has proven to be a strong decision, especially over the last few years. The companies that are thriving in the sector are displaying strength through their solid balance sheets and healthy stocks. One primary reason for this growth and stability is due to the growing demand of health care services; a demand that is coming at a time when people are seeking innovative and creative ideas from the tech industry to make healthcare more affordable and more accessible – in regards to both primary care and at-home care for both physical and mental health.
Advancements in technology is the prime avenue where the health care sector is growing. At a time when a quarter of the population is about to be over the age of 65, companies are developing unique concepts to advance their care in a variety of sector’s, including in the offices of heath care practitioners, hospitals both public (state and local) and private, residential care facilities, services with home health care, and outpatient laboratory and assorted ambulatory services. The concepts created today are making health care more available and less time consuming than years prior.
Some of the most advanced technologies being utilized in this sector have included opportunities in which bots and other automated systems have assisted with human interaction. For example, many doctors now complete assessments using a bot, and then they use video chatting to connect with their patients. This has reduced the amount of time necessary for each doctor-patient interaction and has also allowed the doctors to obtain more of the information necessary to make an educated diagnosis.
Outside of patient care there have also been advancements in blockchain and in technology for prescriptions. Blockchain for health has provided the patients the chance to be more involved in their care. Through online sites they can now gain access to their medical records and even share those records with the appropriate physicians. Furthermore, companies such as PipelineRX have made tremendous efforts in reducing costs of prescriptions by creating platforms that provide telephone-based pharmacy services.
For at-home services, the developments have been just as innovate, Again, as we cater to the aging population, we must consider that they are not all at an age where they require or even want a retirement home. In fact, a majority of this population has the mindset that they want to age at home. It is identified that staying at home can actually provide a better quality of life for those individuals and reduce their medical bills. Therefore, companies are creating concepts that promote just this. Outside of creating platforms that allow patients to connect with their doctor’s via technology, companies are creating monitoring services, alternative at-home visit services, and many more. Some of the most popular advancements have included technologies that monitor heart rate and blood pressure, in which the data can then be directly transmitted to their primary care physician. There are also services that manage IVs and catheters, those that provide physical and cognitive therapies, and those that educate patients and caregivers on electronic platforms. Companies are even creating services directed toward preparing meals and cleaning the home, providing transportation, and providing companionship.
In essence, the opportunity in this industry is endless. Taking into consideration the millions of diagnosis patients can receive, companies can create ideas that can target a niche. For example, diabetes and obesity in the United States are on the rise and people are seeking technology to help monitor their conditions and improve their health. Or for those who have a family history of Alzheimer’s, technology is being created to catch dementia early. Again, this reflects an advancement in imaging services.
Beyond that of physical health and maintenance, companies are also identifying the mental health sector as an opportunity. No longer are we witnessing a stigma related to individuals needing mental health services, and in those arenas in which the stigma still exists we are seeing people challenging it. With this new acceptance paired with a new societal concept of health and wellness, companies are starting to create applications and online services directed towards catering to those seeking mental health services. For example, applications are being created that educate, promote, assist, and track people’s engagement in mindfulness activities. Applications are also being developed to allow people do complete daily check-ins to improve their mood. On a larger scale, companies are providing online therapy services, allowing clients to avoid the hassle of going into the traditional therapist’s office.
Home care is not only an idea being pursued by small tech companies, but instead has been adopted by major healthcare players. Just two years ago, in 2017, two of county’s biggest insurance companies engaged in mega-deals, moving towards placing home care in a more prominent place in the health ecosystem. The first was a merger between Aetna and CVS. Their goal was and is to keep seniors out of institution settings by converting CVS pharmacies into community health care hubs. Another major merge was when Humana purchased Kindred at Home (Humana actually purchased 40% of the company while the other 60% was acquired by private equity firms). Their goal in this merger was to transform post-acute care by increasing resources for at-home care. They are currently focused on increased up care coordination and support services, particularly for seniors on the Medicare Advantage Plans.
There are also new partnerships being created between private equity and healthcare buyers. They have evolved beyond acquisitions and are co-investing together in new companies. One prominent example is when Pfizer and LifeArc (a medical research charity) partnered in 2017 with Bain Capital and Obimed. Together, they created SpringWorks Therapeutics, an independent company that develops treatments for underserved patients.
These modernizations came at a time when Obamacare was created. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare made it a requirement that every American has healthcare. The idea was to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable healthcare by offering consumer discounts on government-sponsored health insurance plans. ACA also expanded the Medicaid assistance program to include those who don’t have healthcare in their budget. The impact of the law has created an influx in opportunity for those venturing into healthcare sectors. As they know that their services will continue to be required, by law, companies in this sector have expanded. In fact, it is believed that 30 million individuals who were previously uninsured gained access to healthcare via the Affordable Care Act. The result has been an increase in demands for healthcare professionals, such as nurses and physicians, and has proven to be an opportunity for tech companies to expand healthcare service processes.
The growth of the industry is supported by the change in private equity entering the sector. This year global private equity-backed healthcare deals rose to over $63 billion. This is a 50% rise compared to the year prior. Driven by the aging population, the rising prevalence of chronic disease, and expanding demands for quality and efficiency in care, private equity is being distributed more than ever. Furthermore, with the new partnerships being introduced, such as that between Pfizer, LifeArc, OrbiMed, and Bain Capital, healthcare companies are being provided the chance to keep their portfolios diversified while mitigating some of their operational and financial risks and costs via diversification.
Private equity is not the only indicator of the sectors strength. In June of this year it was reported that health-care stocks outperformed the market by about 7% in the nine months after the Fed cut interest rates. They have continued to display consistent revenue streams and are regularly paying out bigger dividends compared to other stock options.
On a reserved note, companies in the healthcare sector need to be aware of the negative impacts occurring in the sector. While there is massive opportunity and a historically rapid growth in the sector, there are uncertainties that could halt the progress. For example, what is the future of Obamacare, and if discontinued, how will it impact the progress? Depending on the elected officials, regulations and policies could shift. Or what if we do head further towards the concept of socialization in which healthcare is provided by government funding? This transition would have an extreme negative impact on the industry by reducing private companies influence. All in all, government decisions could majorly impact the choices investors make and current funding distributions could shift. Companies pursuing innovations in this sector should not redirect their efforts, however they should be knowledgeable and understand how federal and state policies can impact their ideas.
The reality is that if we continue with the current trends, at home care services and healthcare tech companies could become an established aspect to our healthcare industry. Health insurance companies have jumped on the band wagon to promote this shift, which is what essentially drives available services to consumers. The challenges are present, but the industry is witnessing very little slowdown in their presence.
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