Accenture: US health system could save $10B annually by using digital health in primary care

By Aditi Pai
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Using digital health tools in primary care could save the US healthcare system $10 billion annually, according to a report from Accenture.

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Accenture said its researchers analyzed the workflows of common physician office visits, including preventive care office visits, routine infant or child health checks, and visits for other conditions like hypertension and diabetes.

The research firm explained that there is a projected shortage of 31,000 US-based primary care physicians (PCPs) by 2025, but the number of aging patient populations and people with chronic conditions is growing, so using digital health offerings would provide doctors with more time to see more patients. Accenture pointed to three scenarios that allow physicians to save money: the annual patient visit, ongoing patient management, and patient self-care. 

For the annual patient visit, physicians often spend a lot of time gathering information from the patient. One reason for this is that physicians must continually reevaluate the patient's condition as patients share bits and pieces of information about their health throughout the visit. If patients, instead, used connected health devices, like wearable sensors and digital weight scales, to collect health data before the exam and sent it to the physician via a patient portal, it would save the physician an average of five minutes per visit. Accenture said the time savings equivalent would be 37,000 primary care providers, or 18 percent of the primary care physician workforce.

In the second scenario, Accenture said instead of scheduling face to face visits for ongoing patient management, physicians should use e-visits, which is a form of asynchronous communication that physicians can have with patients via secure messaging. These visits take less than 10 minutes to complete. Accenture calculated the amount of time saved if these visits were used instead of in-person visits for hypertension management, which was the equivalent of around 1,500 primary care physicians, or 1 percent of the workforce. This value, annually, is approximately $300 million.

In the third scenario, patient self-management, Accenture used adults with diabetes as an example. This group can use digital health tools, like connected glucose monitors, to manage their health. These offerings often provide users with prompts and suggest self management plans. This data can then be sent to the patient's clinical team, which allows physicians to reach out to just a few patients who need more help. Patient self-management offers a time saving equivalent to approximately 24,000 primary care physicians, which represent 11 percent of the workforce.

A similar Accenture report this past June predicted that FDA-cleared digital health devices would save the US healthcare system tens of billions between now and 2018. More recently the firm published survey results that showed life sciences executives believe the next generation of digital health platforms will come from healthcare companies, not technology companies.

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NASA astronaut Scott Kelly checks out the Microsoft HoloLens aboard a space station on February 20, 2016. The device is part of NASA's project Sidekick, which is exploring the use of augmented reality to reduce crew training requirements and increase the efficiency with which astronauts can work in space. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)