Thomas Morrow, M.D., chief medical officer at NextIT, began a session of last week’s NAMCP Managed Care Conference in Las Vegas with a phrase that hits home with thousands of Americans: “My little brother died from non-adherence.” Replace “little brother” with “loved one” and it impacts even more.

Value-based care was the buzzword of the conference, and throughout their presentations, the speakers referenced several methods to improve disease-specific or general-health outcomes, including patient-centered care, incentivized payment reimbursement models, and technology. Among those methods, embracing technology stood out as a critical component to patient participation in health, including medication adherence.

John Harris, director of Veralon, gave a presentation during the conference on “disruptive competitors,” which is the Clayton Christensen-coined term that describes a product or service introduced at the bottom of the market that eventually displaces the market’s largest competitors. Harris offered the examples of Uber replacing taxis, Netflix replacing Blockbuster, and Toyota replacing GM. In the healthcare industry, Harris cited app-enabled engagement as an emerging disruptive competitor.

“With consumerization of healthcare, apps are attacking weaknesses of traditional health systems: convenience, communication, and price transparency,” Harris said. Instead of a company deciding how it fits into healthcare, he said, health technology startups are asking instead: How will healthcare fit with us?

Harris offered the examples of ZocDoc (a physician scheduling application), Practo (a doc-finder app), and Grand Rounds (a specialist scheduling application). These applications tend to attract healthier, younger patients, who may be more willing to participate in the management of their own healthcare if given easy, accessible options.

Morrow also introduced a concept once reserved for futuristic films: a virtual health assistant (VHA) or companion, who communicates to users through their smartphones to ensure medication adherence, exercise, and other components of general wellbeing. It’s different from the relatively standard inclusion of the smartphone or other mobile device in the spectrum of care, which involves text message appointment reminders or medication adherence reminders.

“There’s no way to get a logical, intelligent response back to the individual through a text message, (because there’s no one on the other line),” Morrow said. He then gave an example of an automated text message that says, “Did you take your medication?” The patient responds, “Yes, and I’m having a stroke.” The automated message system replies, “Thank you, I’ll remind you again tomorrow.”

This kind of disconnect needs to be addressed, and Morrow, whose company offers intelligent virtual assistants, believes a more “intelligent” system—one that responds intuitively to user input—is currently available and that artificial intelligence similar to that of a human mind will eventually be attainable.

Morrow also posited that a personalized healthcare companion can improve patient satisfaction and engagement in the healthcare system.

“This stuff is exploding out there,” he said. “Become aware of it. It’s going to become dramatically effective in helping you deal with the stresses of the patients you deal with.”

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