The Rise of Multi-Channel Healthcare Delivery

File under: Healthcare innovation, Mobile Health, Multi-Channel Marketing, Patient Engagement, Pharma innovation

eprizeLast week at Health 2.0, the XPRIZE Foundation announced the winners of the Nokia Sensing Challenge, a $2.25 million global competition to accelerate the development of sensors and sensing technology that is smaller, lighter, and capable of capturing true clinical data on a personal level. It was an exciting overview of emerging technology that’s crossing the barriers of mobile communication, nanotechnology, physics, chemistry, biology, material science, and software.

Multi-Channel Health Care Delivery

I write often about the importance of multi-channel healthcare marketing, but this convergence in technology and health will open up exciting new growth opportunities for multi-channel healthcare delivery.

Health traditionally has taken place through three primary delivery channels:

  1. Hospitals
  2. The doctor’s office
  3. Clinics

These channels have evolved over the years in terms of their level and sophistication of healthcare delivery. Even 20-30 years ago, most sophisticated health delivery was only available on an inpatient basis in hospitals. And then in the ‘90s, partially as a byproduct of the Clinton-era focus on healthcare reform, there was a real push to reduce hospital costs, leading to the development of ambulatory care, or outpatient services.

With the rise of outpatient care, many of the sophisticated procedures and diagnostics were pushed from the hospitals down into the physician’s office.

At the same time, we began to see health clinics moving away from just being a very low cost, low quality umbrella facility for anyone who couldn’t afford a real doctor, to surgery centers, specialty care clinics that have created a strong third healthcare delivery channel. In fact, there are over 5,000 surgical clinics in the United States alone now performing 23 million surgeries a year on an outpatient basis. Almost all colonoscopies are done on an outpatient basis, for example.

The move from the hospital to the physician’s office and the surgicenter has moved many health procedures to a more convenient and lower-cost platform.

Two New Delivery Channels

Today, thanks to technology, we’re seeing two new channels emerging that are going to become much more prominent for both convenience and cost reduction.

1. Virtualization of the Physicians Office

Think of it as talking to your doctor over Skype. It’s been called telemedicine, but soon this channel will also expand to provide the ability to exchange personal clinical data. Whether you’re standing on a Bluetooth scale or uploading your blood sugar readings from your iPhone app – or as we learned from the Nokia Sensor XPRIZE, your biomarkers, too, a lot of technology is starting to come together to support a reliable clinical conversation. In the next 10 to 15 years, a significant portion of the population will begin to move to this virtualization of health.

Telemedicine makes a lot of sense in the rural areas of the United States, Canada, and many places around the world where people don’t have easy access to a physician, but even in busy urban settings, a regular check-in becomes more convenient and cost-effective. Instead of having to make an appointment and lose a couple of hours going to the doctor’s office, I will set a virtual appointment, call my doctor from my desktop over Skype and have a quick ten-minute consult.

2. Mobile Health Apps

The empowered patient movement will create a health delivery channel of its own. Consumers will look for access to more detailed and personalized health data on their own bodies and will use this information to self-regulate and, through diet and exercise, self-medicate themselves. This channel has begun to emerge already through the proliferation of mobile health apps.

These are going to be everywhere – from elegant devices like Shine for tracking activity to sophisticated FDA-approved platforms like VGBio, which is used to predict a second heart attack.

The FDA is going to play an important role here, as there are many apps out there that seem like little more than modern snake oil. Just as the FDA was formed in the 1930s to regulate pharmaceutical elixirs being sold door to door, so the agency has begun to review and regulate the claims of mobile health devices. But the real key will be how patients and healthcare providers partner together use this new source of personal data.

This is another health delivery channel that was inconceivable 20 years ago.

These new channels are going to reduce the pressure on the doctor’s office and clinics. But they won’t stand alone. Just as surgicenters didn’t put hospitals out of business, these new healthcare delivery channels will find their place in a growing multi-channel healthcare delivery ecosystem.

So what kind of multi-channel marketing effort will a multi-channel delivery ecosystem require?

  • Chris Bittler

    I think most healthcare marketing agencies will do a good job of explaining and promoting the benefits of this new digital healthcare technology: fast access to physicians, no sitting in waiting rooms, more consistent tracking of vitals, etc.

    What will set some apart is anticipating and answering the concerns patients will no doubt have about keeping their medical information
    private and secure. Most hospitals and practices are implementing HIPAA-secure apps and software to address this issue, and secure systems are no doubt being developed for the kinds of patient/physician interfaces you talk about. Answering that privacy question even before it is fully developed in the mind of the healthcare consumer will be a good strategy for putting one’s healthcare clients ahead of the rest.