There’s a digital cure for nearly everything in healthcare, but it’s creating an epidemic of fragmentation.

Sara Ratner
Sara Ratner
June 5, 2024

This article was originally published online by Fast Company on May 6, 2024.

The glossy, picture-perfect image of healthcare splashed across billboards, social media and commercials pushes a vision of healing, compassion, and support to help make lives better. Yet, for many, the unvarnished experience feels more like a lonely journey through a complicated maze without a map.

For example, consider patients who have high blood pressure and diabetes. Their care necessitates appointments with a primary care doctor for routine check-ups, a cardiologist for heart issues, an endocrinologist for diabetes, and perhaps even a nutritionist or physical therapist. Each specialist focuses on one vertical of health, but they often fail to communicate or share information about the patient’s overall care plan with each other. This lack of coordination epitomizes healthcare fragmentation, making it more challenging to manage conditions effectively. Compounding these challenges are unexpected bills for deductibles, co-pays, or coinsurance, and it may even result in lack of insurance coverage for portions of the treatment.

The rise of point solutions

The explosive growth and investment in healthcare point solutions—applications and technologies that address a specific health or well-being issue — have produced more than 350,000 digital health apps. Ranging from telemedicine platforms to fitness tracking apps, the rise of these digital services seemed promising, offering targeted interventions and innovative approaches to healthcare. However, they have introduced significant challenges, particularly in their unintended impact on patient care.

There is legitimacy to the allure of point solutions. They strive to fill critical gaps in the healthcare ecosystem, offering specialized and individualized care; but, in practice, these solutions operate in silos. While each point solution may offer valuable insights and interventions, the lack of coordination between them can lead to conflicting recommendations, duplication of efforts and gaps in care.  

Ultimately, this fragmented approach detracts from the continuity and effectiveness of patient care. When crucial health information is scattered across disparate platforms, healthcare providers struggle to gain a comprehensive view of a patient's health status, leading to suboptimal decision-making and potential gaps in care. Moreover, this can cause patients to become apathetic, disengaged, and isolated as they attempt to navigate their healthcare alone at the behest of disconnected tools and services.  

It’s time for a paradigm shift

Beyond effective and affordable care, patients desire greater choices along with guidance, convenience, and personalization. Most people do not have the luxury of time to navigate the healthcare maze, which requires long phone hold times, extensive clinic visit waits, months-long delays for first-available appointments, navigating prior authorization timelines and dealing with the tedious back-and-forth process of resolving billing and payment issues. Further, expecting individuals to engage with multiple apps, portals, and platforms — each requiring separate logins without single sign on, and interactions with unfamiliar providers — is unrealistic. It is time to retire the fragmentation driven by point solutions and move to a more holistic, patient-centric healthcare experience that ensures every patient benefits from a well-coordinated healthcare journey.

In reimagining the approach to care delivery, it is necessary to shift from a purely digital-first model towards digital augmentation, prioritizing patient care continuity. Digital augmentation involves utilizing technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, telemedicine, wearable devices, and electronic health records to enhance the capabilities of healthcare professionals, systems, and services, rather than supplanting with digital-first engagement. The challenge, however, lies in creating a system that integrates point solutions into a unified ecosystem where information flows seamlessly between patients, providers, and systems.

It is rare that a patient's health data, from vital signs to treatment plans, is securely accessible to all members of their care team, fostering collaboration and informed decision-making. This nirvana can become more ubiquitous by leveraging technology and data interoperability, creating a connected, person-first healthcare experience where patients feel supported, empowered, and heard by their providers, with every interaction accretive to overall well-being.

Keeping the human touch at the core of healthcare

When we refer to digital augmentation, the keyword is augmentation. It is not about replacing human care with technology, but rather embracing it so that human interaction remains central to care delivery. The aim is to supplement human care with digital technologies to improve clinical outcomes, enhance patient experiences and drive innovation.

In tandem with in-person care appointments, digital tools such as remote monitoring, telemedicine and mobile apps can empower patients to take a more active role in managing their health. In a holistic, digitally augmented model, technology has the potential to facilitate communication between patients and healthcare providers, promote adherence to treatment plans and encourage healthy behaviors.

The challenges presented by point solutions are as real as the opportunities to overcome them. Navigating the complexities of modern healthcare requires acknowledging that true innovation exists not in the proliferation of fragmented solutions, but in their seamless integration. The surge in digital health innovations promised better care and outcomes. It’s time to fulfill that promise because everyone deserves clarity, compassion, and care.

Sara Ratner is the President of Integrated Programs at Nomi Health, which is powering a new model of healthcare for government programs, employers, and their partners, such as administrators, brokers, and consultants. Nomi Health’s long-term mission is to rebuild U.S. healthcare to run at half the cost. Sara also serves on the Fast Company Executive Board.