You hear it all the time. Our country is facing a major physician shortage, but many people don’t realize that we need more registered nurses too. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, there is a projected nursing shortage in the country that will only get worse as Baby Boomers continue to age. As we all know, the older we get, the more health care we need.
With nursing schools across the country struggling to expand capacities and a national demand for healthcare reform, it seems that a solution to the issue is nowhere in sight. Short staffed healthcare organizations are scheduling nurses for long hours, leading to burnout and low satisfaction of nurses. If we cannot expand the number of nurses (or physicians) to meet the demand for care, what can we do?
Healthcare personnel are turning to digital therapeutics to help reduce health care costs and maintain a high quality of patient care. By using the medical technology, healthcare organizations are finding that they are able to bridge the gap between care and understaffed facilities. But, just how legitimate are these new technologies?
Digital Therapeutics: The Hype
Digital therapeutics provide low-costs methods to prevent and treat chronic diseases. These are technologically based solutions that allow patients to monitor and manage their disease with fewer visits to their doctor’s office.
These technologies are found primarily in mobile devices and medical wearables. Using web browsers, apps, or with other medical devices, patients are able to monitor their health status and doctors can get sent reports without seeing a patient for an in-office visit.
These digital therapeutics keep improving and now use artificial intelligence to drive their apps. There are apps that can monitor patient activity and even intervene in the case of some conditions. There are now pills that have ingestible sensors that will let a doctor know that a medication was actually taken at the right time. There are even asthma inhalers that will monitor the air quality. The data from these devices can be analyzed to tweak and personalize a medical treatment plan.
The Problem with Chronic Diseases
More than half of Americans are affected by a chronic disease. At least 133 million Americans have at least one chronic disease. Chronic diseases also are responsible for more than 85 percent of total health care costs. We can only expect to see more adults suffering from chronic diseases as the population of adults 65 and older continues to grow.
By the year 2050, you can expect around 83.7 million people in this country to be over the age of 65. That number is nearly double the 2012 estimate of 43.1 million seniors. Seniors are becoming eligible for Medicare at a rate of about 10,000 baby boomers per day.
Digital therapeutics are going to help these seniors manage their chronic conditions. These new technologies are also being tested in clinical trials, and results are being published in peer-revied medical journals. We find that there are more and more technologies are being developed for specific diseases and conditions. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) now offers reimbursement on digital therapeutics for diabetes prevention and management.
Digital Therapeutics: The Help
Let’s look at some examples of how medical technologies are helping patients manage their health conditions.
Diabetes Prevention and Management
There are more than 29 million people in the United States living with diabetes. This is about 9.5% of the population, and that is not including the other 86 million adults that have pre-diabetes. Employees with diabetes will cost an employer about $,4500 per year in lost productivity. They also have higher than average medical costs.
Companies like Omada Health are creating programs that help to prevent diabetes. Omada has an online, interactive, 16-week course that uses various resources to aid in the reduction of the development of diabetes in pre-diabetic patients. Not only is their program successful, but they are now recognized by the CMS and the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.
Help to Quit Smoking
An employee that smokes tobacco is likely to cost their employer an extra $5,800 per year, compared to a non-smoker. Most people know that there are many health risks associated with smoking, but quitting smoking is a hard feat. Approximately 17 percent of adults in the US smoke tobacco.
Companies like 2Morrow are making apps like SmartQuit®, which will help users quit smoking. The app allows you to create a personal quit plan and will teach you how to deal with your cravings and urges to smoke. Their program has been proven to be 2 to 3 times more effective than quitting on your own. Those that completed the program were up to 10 times more likely to quit.
Remember to Take Your Medications
Did you know that there are 133 million Americans, or 45 percent of the population, that have at least one chronic disease? People with chronic diseases are responsible for 91 percent of all prescriptions filled and 76 percent of physician visits. More than half of the medications prescribed for chronic diseases are not taken as directed. It is estimated that anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of prescriptions are never even filled.
Especially with the growing aging population, remembering to take medications can be hard. Not remembering to take medications, or not taking them at the right times can hurt a patient. Doctors may change a treatment plan thinking a particular medication is not working but it could be because the patient didn’t take the medication correctly. How do we help remedy this situation?
With an app like Medisafe, a patient can have a medication reminder in their smartphone. The app will let them know when they should take their medication, including an image of the particular medications. They can even have summary reports sent to their doctors. A simple digital therapy like this helps patients remember to take medications.