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Is Your Music Playlist More Personalized Than Your Health Care?

Steve Nelson, UnitedHealthcare
Chief Executive Officer

Steve Nelson is chief executive officer of UnitedHealthcare, a division of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH). UnitedHealthcare serves one in eight Americans, making it the single largest business dedicated to health and well-being in the United States.

I typically start my mornings with two things: a good workout and my favorite playlist or podcast in hand. I love how these streaming services know my music-listening history and what podcasts I recently downloaded and automatically make new recommendations for me. Why can’t health care provide that same type of simple, personalized experience?

I’d argue that the health care industry has more data available to create these types of personalized experiences than any other industry. Admittedly, using and sharing all that data in simple ways has not been easy – health care is a complex, fragmented industry.

But I believe meaningful change is possible, and I see tremendous progress already happening today. At UnitedHealthcare, it starts with our virtual data hub. By using modern, information-enabled health systems, this clinical platform gathers data from a multitude of sources and allows us to paint a far more personalized picture of an individual’s health while anticipating their upcoming care needs. From routine checkups and recent ER visits to a person’s medication history and real-time health stats transmitted via digital therapeutics, the virtual data hub compiles and analyzes this information much like streaming services do with my music-listening history. Then, through a combination of machine-learning models, algorithms and the human touch of our clinical teams, we can identify and recommend future health actions and help patients and care providers choose the best clinical approach.

Let me give you an example. As part of UnitedHealthcare’s Heart Health program, a case manager monitors member weight and other data relevant to congestive heart failure (CHF). Enrolled members receive a connected scale and tablet loaded with customized software to help manage their CHF. With the digital data from the devices, we build a patient record that incorporates multiple factors, such as prescribed medications, ER visits and social determinants of health.

Our case managers receive real-time alerts about sudden weight gain or unexpected hospital admissions that allow them to intervene when patients need us most and catch potentially dangerous trends early. The case managers collaborate with the member’s care team to provide coaching and education to help manage their health and address social determinants that may be barriers for the member. In some cases, we are able to feed device data directly into the provider’s electronic medical record for that specific member.

I recently learned of an instance in which one of our case managers reached out to a member after receiving a weight gain alert, so she could assess her condition. The case manager ultimately determined that a 911 call was necessary, and she remained on the phone with the member to provide support and address concerns. Access to real-time actionable data allowed us to intervene sooner based on the triggering event, enabling care before the situation escalated into a life-threatening emergency.

And we’re not stopping with CHF. We are starting to use similar digital therapeutics for diabetes, asthma and other conditions.

The future of digital health care holds tremendous potential. The combination of big data, advanced analytics, consumer-generated information, artificial intelligence and sophisticated engagement techniques is ushering in a new, much more personalized health care experience. I’m optimistic in the very near future that digital health will become just a normal part of our day.