The new reality of health care is here: shopping for benefits online via simple mobile apps; virtual care anytime, anywhere; and games to make chronic care management appealing. Despite that, challenges remain in the move to true digital health and, with it, better outcomes, a top Cigna executive said Monday.

In some ways, so little has changed since the 1920s, said Mark Boxer, Cigna’s executive vice president and global chief information officer, as he displayed a November 1924 newspaper headline of “Hospital Fees Hit Middle Class Hard” during a keynote address at a conference sponsored by IT company Pega in Orlando. “We face some of the same challenges we faced almost 100 years ago,” he added.

Also see: Too many barriers in health IT, state officials say

Less than half of health care interactions in this country are  based on scientific evidence, Boxer said. Rather, most are based on doctor preference, doctor education and geography.

“Technology is not the answer alone,” Boxer said, “but technology does provide integration to make real and meaningful improvements to the system,” including improved quality, affordability and optimized patient experiences that enable the consumer to own their health care decisions.

Technology changes

To achieve such success, “we must consider going digital in everything we do,” he said. But legacy systems and a fragmented ecosystem are standing in the way, Boxer said. “For Cigna, the consequences are serious,” he said. “We risk becoming irrelevant in the market we compete in. Our challenge is to engage customers on their own terms: Gamification, social, mobile, big data.”

Where those concepts intersect is where customers want to be, he explained.

In a country with 315 million citizens, there are 320 million mobile devices, making them the center of the entire ecosystem, he said. “Sensors. Apps. All playing important roles in that ecosystem. We can seamlessly capture and integrate an incredible amount of data that was previously not available,” he said.

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