Consumer Health Tech: If You Build It, Will They Come?

Executive Briefing | by | December 3, 2016


Managers of many provider and payer organizations are feeling the pressure to invest in new consumer-facing technology, such as mobile apps and branded online media. Some are even establishing in-house tech “accelerators” to speed development and adoption. Why? Because not only can these tools reduce costs and improve consumer access to services, they can often (though not always) be monetized, they can be used to gather more consumer data, and they can help build an organization’s brand.

However, making those solutions pay off isn’t as simple as rolling out a new app. Last month, panelists at The 2016 OPEN MINDS Technology & Informatics Institute town hall session “What Are The Impediments To Adopting New Technologies For Consumer Care?” pointed out that convincing people to use these offerings can be a challenge in and of itself. They also provided some advice on improving consumer engagement with those technologies.

To introduce the session, OPEN MINDS Senior Associate Sharon Hicks, asked the key question: “We want consumers to use certain tools, not just the ones they want to use … How do we get them to do that?”

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Panelists at the session, from left to right: Bruce Bird, Davis Park, Chris Slocum, and Sharon Hicks

Here’s a quick overview of their recommendations, as well as technology predictions they gave in the discussion:

Chris Slocum, LCSW, MBA, Vice President of Clinical Operations, MHNet/Aetna Behavioral Health, Austin, Texas

Aetna invests in a wide array of consumer-oriented tech-based solutions, such as Assess Wellbeing, a free online evaluation for depression and anxiety, and a mobile app that allows consumers to access personal health records, find in-network doctors, and review claims.

Recommendation for consumer-focused technologies: “Change is hard,” Mr. Slocum explained. “Stuff doesn’t work out, decisions don’t get made, and inertia takes over.” Consequently, you should approach any major new project or program with the expectation that it will be difficult. That way, you’ll be better prepared for inevitable challenges.

Prediction for future health care technologies: Telehealth and online therapy will win over more of the current skeptics as adoption becomes more common.

Bruce L. Bird, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer, Vinfen, Cambridge, Massachussetts

Dr. Bird leads an organization that provides community-based services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental and behavioral health issues. His organization won the Scattergood Foundation’s 2015 Innovation Award for developing a mobile app for young people with psychiatric issues.

Recommendation for consumer-focused technologies: Find as many ways as possible to get tech-based solutions in front of consumers. Dr. Bird has found that adoption rates are high among consumers who are willing to give these tools a shot in the first place. “Adherence in these populations once they try it out is pretty good,” he said. “We’re trying to study that more.”

Prediction for future health care technologies: We will likely see more self-monitoring and -management systems (e.g., schedules for taking medications).

Davis Park, Director, Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing, Glendale, California

In his role at the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing, which was established in 2009 in California to find different approaches to senior housing, he’s researched and deployed — among other things — lifelike robotic companion animals for residents’ mental and emotional care.

Recommendation for consumer-focused technologies: Keep in mind that success isn’t just about having the latest and greatest technology. “Tech is only 10% of what we do,” Mr. Park said. “The tech part is really the easiest. We can always fix those things — the real work is in engagement and adoption.”

Prediction for future health care technologies: Technology vendors will continue to work toward systems integration “because that’s what we’re asking for.”

How do executives overcome the barriers to consumer tech adoption within their organization? First, build a technology implementation plan. Successful tech adoption doesn’t happen on its own. Staff need training and a clear plan for how to incorporate new technologies into your service delivery continuum, and consumers need guidance and encouragement to make using technologies part of their regular treatment plan. Its easy for new technologies, even good technologies, to fall by the wayside due to lack of continuous support and proper investment of time and resources. Second, let your consumers be your guide. As your organization figures out how to engage more consumers via technology, make sure you understand which of your offerings consumers are using and how they’re using it. If they’re not engaging with a particular tool, is there something you could be doing differently to change that? Some technology tools might not end up doing much for you and your consumers, no matter what you do. One important characteristic for health care leaders is knowing when to cut their losses and move on so their organizations aren’t unnecessarily drained of resources.

Learn more about how behavioral and mental health organizations and their leaders are building their brands through online technology at the session, “An Executive Guide To Using Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, & More: Improving Your Organization’s Profile With Social Media,” featuring OPEN MINDS Executive Vice President Tim Snyder at The 2017 OPEN MINDS Strategy & Innovation Institute taking place in New Orleans on June 6-7, 2017.


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