IoT, NLP, AR, machine learning, gamification—these are just a few of the emerging technologies that health plans and providers can harness to enhance member and patient engagement. In the near future, campaigns using these new tools and techniques could be crucial for healthcare organizations who want to stay ahead of the pack, rather than fall behind. The question is not whether to incorporate these newer tools into health engagement campaigns. Rather, healthcare organizations need to decide which of these emerging technologies in healthcare will drive the right results based on their specific goals. And when they’ll be ready.

When research firm strategy & conducted a survey on customer satisfaction in healthcare, 40% of the primary drivers of healthcare consumer satisfaction included personalization, seamlessness, simplicity, convenience, and digitization. 

Those drivers still hold true today and as emerging technologies in healthcare have advanced, the opportunities to create frictionless, relevant and digital experiences have grown.

The siren call for healthcare organizations is to make the individual’s experience relevant so that digital trust is built, and engagement grows with each touchpoint.

Here are the five emerging technologies in healthcare that every healthcare organization should consider incorporating into their strategies for health engagement:

1. The Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT makes it possible for devices, sensors, and apps to gather, record, and report data. Although we’re familiar with the idea of “connected healthcare” when it comes to providers, most plans have not yet learned how to manage and analyze the massive amounts of information gained from these smart devices.

This data can be used to motivate and encourage better habits in real time, and it can also deliver important statistics back to the healthcare organization. If behavior can be motivated to encourage the appropriate use of wearables, data from these and more passive devices like sensors within the IoT environment can provide vital information on the health trends of entire populations. As a result, predictive analysis techniques can unveil more effective keys to influencing individuals to take action.

One important caveat is that health plans and providers need to choose health engagement platforms that can not only manage this data, but also integrate the information seamlessly with the organization’s enterprise systems. Without the right supportive technology, data collected from connected healthcare systems is often lost.

2. Machine Learning

Machine learning technology seems to get a lot of industry media attention, and startups in this space have certainly garnered more than their fair share of funding in the past three years. Most people understand the impacts of machine learning for applications like robotic surgery, diagnosis in medical imaging, and even drug discovery.

Forward-thinking organizations like CIGNA and others are already beginning to translate some of the techniques used to influence behavior in the retail industry, to health engagement campaigns that result in lower medical costs and better healthcare outcomes. The system can actually learn as it goes forward, developing and testing personalization that drives increasingly stronger health engagement.

Machine learning and AI represent a strong opportunity to understand more about member behavior when it comes to their health and wellness. Unfortunately, healthcare organizations still place it as a low priority, despite the fact that most experts believe machine learning will eventually become a primary driver of healthcare consumer engagement.

3. Gamification

Gamification is a relatively new practice for healthcare but the idea is fairly common. Progressive, patterned activities that individuals enjoy can better influence their behavior, and motivate them to act.

For health engagement, the most promising use of gamification centers around tactics including:

  • Education on health and wellness topics
  • Touchpoints to reduce unhealthy habits like smoking
  • Wellness assessments and other screening tools
  • Chronic condition management.

Gamification can appear in the form of apps or even video games inserted strategically as part of a health engagement campaign. It’s most important use may be as part of touchpoints that focus on keeping individuals well, and on activities that assist with early diagnosis.

The seven elements of gamification – status, milestones, competition, rankings, social connectedness, immersion reality and personalization – can be applied to help individuals become more knowledgeable about disease prevention, age-appropriate screenings, and maintaining active lifestyles.

4. Natural Language Processing (NLP)

NLP is a term that describes the use of computer algorithms to discern the meaning behind spoken word or written input based on specific elements of speech. Basically, when a system is using NLP it is able to automate the understanding of what is being said and how it’s being said.

When NLP is applied to automated voice communications it can pick up on subtle cues, like tone of voice and word choice, and respond in increasingly more appropriate terms. As a result, an automated system works to “humanize” the experience as it interacts with the individual.

Today, researchers are seeing substantial results using NLP to encourage portal use, increasing the amount of health education absorbed by members and patients. Experts believe this is due in part to the ability of NLP algorithms to identify complex medical terms and translate them into something the average layperson can understand.

NLP also delivers critical information used in predictive analytics that can improve outcomes when dealing with population health. Two critical success factors must be achieved for NLP to deliver its real promise, however. First, organizations need to understand how to manage the data and make it relevant. Second, the systems need to evolve so that individuals aren’t turned off by the fact they’re talking to an automated system.

5. Augmented Reality (AR)

Although virtual reality seems to gain most of the attention, a close cousin – augmented reality – probably holds the most promise in terms of engaging and holding the attention of healthcare consumers. Rather than developing an entirely virtual environment, augmented reality takes virtual elements and integrates them into what the user is actually experiencing.

Google Glass is an example of an AR application that although it hasn’t taken off with consumers, has become an influential component of IoT environments within several industries.

Healthcare’s first AR adoptions have been smart glasses that help train doctors, and assist with telehealth consultants. For health engagement, AR tools like these may be used educate the user more effectively, and eventually they may even help members provide documentation and complete other administrative tasks.

Like other emerging technologies in healthcare, AR will provide invaluable data on member behavior, and provide information that can boost engagement with future health engagement campaigns. Although AR is still on the horizon for most healthcare organizations, we can’t ignore that fact that studies show it’s effective in increasing health education 96% of the time, according to the NIH.

Driving toward frictionless, personalized health engagement campaigns with increasingly stronger results could require the implementation of some or all of these emerging technologies in healthcare.Although touchpoints using AI, IoT, gamification, NLP and/or AR may not be a reality today, it’s important that healthcare organizations understand the research being done and the implications of each technology as it matures.