By Dr. Donna O’Shea, Chief Medical Officer of Population Health Management, UnitedHealthcare

With the COVID-19 pandemic creating some necessary constraints on how, when and where people access health care, digital health resources have emerged as a valuable bridge that can help keep health care providers and their patients connected.

In fact, one recent analysis estimated the digital health market will grow by 26 percent by 2025. That growth reflects the potential benefits of digital health technology, including its ability to facilitate more personalized conversations between patients and doctors based on near real-time data exchanged via connected health devices and health system software.

As health care providers look for ways to expand patient services and grow their practices, leveraging digital health technologies is likely to become increasingly important. Here are three strategies health care providers in Tennessee should consider during COVID-19 and beyond:  

Integrate Virtual Care: The use of virtual care resources has surged more than tenfold compared to 2019[1]. For many patients, telehealth provides a more convenient way to connect with care providers about various health issues, ranging from routine care and urgent health concerns to ongoing chronic condition management and specialty services. To help make that possible for their practices, health care professionals may want to evaluate offering these services through their own virtual care platform or contracting with a third-party vendor. Creating a virtual care checklist for staff members may also be helpful as this practical tool can support a smoother experience for both patients and your staff.

It’s also important to keep in mind that investing in virtual care capabilities may support your practice’s progression through the continuum of value-based care and encourage success in risk-based contracts with health plans. By improving patient access to virtual care, it may help prevent disease, better identify and manage chronic conditions, improve satisfaction and curb costs – all important outcomes in any value-based care program.    

Consider Recommending Wearables: Millions of Americans already rely on smartwatches and activity trackers to help monitor their daily activity and sleep patterns as well as support their efforts to improve their well-being. With wearables now part of our day-to-day lives, some people are also becoming comfortable using them as a resource to help manage chronic conditions by making more data-driven decisions about their care and daily habits. Continuous glucose monitors (CGM) are a great example. By transmitting data about glucose levels to the patient’s smartphone or other digital device in near real-time, patients and their care providers may be able to more easily identify relationships between eating, exercise and blood sugar that can be difficult to observe with only test strips and a glucose meter. Some health plans in Tennessee are starting to provide CGMs at no additional cost to members as a digital therapeutic, making this technology more affordable for patients.

Wearables and remote patient monitoring initiatives may also make a difference in the management of heart failure. By leveraging blood pressure cuffs, scales and pulse oximeters to measure blood-oxygen levels, pulse rate and perfusion index, care providers may be able to identify potentially serious changes and more quickly intervene, helping to avert complications and possible hospitalizations.

Make Technology Part of Your Workflow: New digital platforms may have the ability to improve the workflow for health care providers, as well as enhance patient satisfaction by enabling more personalized, integrated and data-driven clinical recommendations. For instance, certain technology platforms that integrate directly into a physician’s existing electronic medical record platform may enable care providers to view prescription costs, potential gaps in care, eligibility and patient health history in near real-time and potentially obtain prior authorization before the patient leaves the exam room. This may help encourage the selection of lower-cost drug alternatives, such as generics, by providing equivalent medications and cost information before the patient goes to the pharmacy to fill the prescription.

Considering these emerging technologies – and discussing them with your patients and your health plans* – may help encourage improved health outcomes, curb costs and help your practices grow. 

*Care providers should confirm health plan coverage requirements for specific resources or equipment.


Donna O’Shea, MD, MBA, is Chief Medical Officer of Population Health Management for UnitedHealthcare. She earned her medical degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and her MBA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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[1] UnitedHealthcare internal analysis, 2020