The Health Section

What to watch for in 2017: more technology, better access

Whether it’s smart watches, fitness trackers or artificial intelligence, technology is a part of the health care industry. At Aetna, our experts keep track of technological advances as a part of our mission to increase access to high quality, cost effective health care.

Technology opens doors for continuity

The opportunity to use a laptop or smartphone to remotely consult with a physician is convenient and cost effective, and so telemedicine is increasingly popular with patients, providers and insurers alike.

Jay Rajda, M.D., MBA, FACP, Aetna’s chief clinical transformation officer, said the technology and models used for telemedicine will evolve and provide an opportunity for more “continuity” of care remotely.

“Thus far, the most prevalent model one where telemedicine is used primarily for low-complexity urgent clinical issues” Rajda said. “We are excited about the prospects of the role of telemedicine in chronic condition management. As we further develop consumer-centric care models, the ability to access continuity of care by connecting with one’s own primary care physician to manage diabetes or hypertension, could be a valuable proposition for the consumer, improving patient satisfaction. At the same, it holds promise to be able to fulfill the triple aim of improved access and quality, and reduced costs.”

Find balance between wearables, apps and evidence-based medicine

The technology in today’s wearables can detect if someone is walking, running, swimming or climbing and can recognize a person’s emotions. For example, one wearable monitors a person’s breathing patterns to determine if they’re stressed. If they are, the wearable vibrates, prompting the person to take a deep breath.

As technology continues to develop, physicians have to strive to continue to create doctor-patient relationships, according to Gabriela Cora, M.D., DFAPA, a medical director for Aetna Behavioral Health.

In a world where people have vast amounts of information at their fingertips, and where apps and wearable devices give people access to a variety of metrics, Cora emphasized the importance of not overwhelming people with data. She said she finds the blurring line between technology and health care interesting, but reiterated that diagnoses and treatment will be supported by “evidence-based medicine.”

“The integration of technology in health apps and wearables will make a difference as long as it relies on healthy standards,” Cora said. “This is going to be the greatest opportunity – and challenge – in the years to come.”

New payment models may also impact access

Physicians will also be paying attention to large-scale changes that can affect patients, according to John Moore, D.O., FAAFP, Aetna’s medical director for the United States’ Northeast Region. This includes the implementation of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2017, and changes the way Medicare physicians are paid.

Moore explained he’s interested to see how changes from the federal level can impact an individual patient’s opportunity to access affordable health care.

“It’s really critical for health care patients to have coverage to the best of their ability,” Moore said. Noting that the future of the Affordable Care Act is uncertain, Moore continued, “Generally, physicians would like to see patients have access to affordable health care.”