Michael Maas - real innovation, real technology

Michael Maas

Michael Maas

Michael is the Market Developer and Customer manager at SensiCardiac.

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The healthcare industry is stirring. In the words of Bob Dylan: “the times they are a changin’”.

It seems that with the advent of new technologies, coupled with a greater need to improve the current healthcare system, the digital health revolution arrived. This great experiment is about to start, but there seems to be a few problems in the way. There are some massive hurdles preventing the widespread adoption of digital health technologies in healthcare. Some examples include slow improvements in health IT, complicated healthcare and provider systems, segregated devices, and limited value proven by digital health companies. This has prevented novel technologies to enter and be tested in the greater healthcare system. This is very true when one looks at the electronic stethoscope, an example of a (possibly) revolutionary healthcare device.

The electronic stethoscope is not a new invention. It has been around for more than 20 years. And it changed nothing.

In that time computer and mobile processing power has skyrocketed, we have migrated to the cloud for storage and computing power and internet connectivity has become ubiquitous in developed nations. So why has the stethoscope been left behind? We were all expecting primary care doctors and nurses to be using electronic stethoscopes by now. Stethoscopes that are linked to the cloud, providing analysis and helpful insights into what the doctor or nurse were hearing. The interesting thing is that this problem is perpetuated by the stethoscope industry itselfironically.

Electronic vs Acoustic

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In the past few years the telemedicine market has grown substantially. A report estimated that the global telemedicine market would grow from $14B in 2014  to $35B in 2020. This growth has attracted many new players aiming to ‘disrupt the healthcare market’ including digital health companies, EHRs, technology integrators and providers, amongst others. These companies come in all shapes and sizes, and promise to deliver or enable high quality healthcare from a remote location. Telemedicine threatens to challenge current fee-for-service models by offering value-based care that can surpass many of the current challenges faced by those who work and offer health care.

Telemedicine, for me, solves two major problems. More than 46 million Americans live in rural areas. Telemedicine can help provide specialized services to these underserved communities, and could do this at a much more affordable rate. Another problem that can be solved is the large cost associated with having and retaining specialized services. Healthcare providers can centralize many services, and deliver care from a central point. This can increase the volume of patients served, and overcome many of the logistical challenges being faced by major healthcare organizations. This also means that professional healthcare services could be incorporated in businesses such as retail clinics, where basic primary care is served but not all healthcare services can be delivered. Telemedicine will expand the services they offer, and promise to do so at a reduced cost.

The question still remains – will Telemedicine disrupt healthcare in the way it imagines? Will it cause a new system to be adopted where all retail clinics, hospitals and caregivers access care via smartphones, tablets, or specifically tailored carts with a myriad of peripheral devices? I think this will depend on a few very important and key factors. Firstly, how well will this new technology be adopted? Healthcare technology adoption is famously slow. How will these companies expedite technological adoption in a market that clearly shows resistance to new tech? The second question to be asked is what kind of technology should be added, and what should this offering look like? Developers and integrators have to constantly iterate their technological offering to match customer preferences, and to ensure they add value. That leads to the third question – is there actual validated value that is being added to care being provided. Not perceived value that might encourage some sales, but actual validated value that will lead to the wide spread adoption of telemedicine?

So will telemedicine disrupt the healthcare market? Only time will tell, but the initial signs are promising. Telemedicine does look like the best solution to provide care to a large underserved part of the market.

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It is inevitable that the healthcare system is changing. A major shift is from the current fee-for-service (FFS) model to a value-based model. This aims to improve patient outcomes while reducing costs. This is a major change in the system, and is challenging the way many primary care providers are thinking about healthcare. How can we rethink healthcare, how do we position ourselves, and how should we operate in this new environment? 

Many leaders in primary healthcare (thankfully) are realizing that this shift is taking place. The advent of the retail clinic is an example of a major change in the primary healthcare spectrum. A recent Accenture study found that the amount of retail clinics in the USA would have risen by 47% from 2014 till 2017, exceeding 2800 clinics. This shows a shift in many patients’ mindset about retail clinics. They seem to prefer the convenience, and with many uninsured Americans, this could be a solution to the heavily burdened primary care system.

Data is very important in the new healthcare business model. The amount of patients, re-admittance rates, tracking of conditions, treatments and diagnostics are all-important in optimizing the healthcare system and in tracking costs and patient outcomes. A paper-based system is not going to make the cut. Technology, especially cloud-based services, is going to become even more prevalent in the new way of delivering primary healthcare. Trying to deliver better care at a lower cost will require a few new business strategies. Providers will have to improve operating costs, increase patient volumes and effectively track and monitor patients to ensure that their health is improving. These could all be addressed with the use of new health technologies.

To improve operating costs, low-cost screening tests and preventative healthcare technologies will reduce referral rates and limit patient discomfort. This means a better service is delivered to the patient. To increase patient volumes these clinics must be able to differentiate themselves with their services, level of quality, or by ensuring they have the most satisfied patients. Cloud-managed software services could improve the way patients are tracked, and mobile applications could increase monitoring of conditions, as well as create a valuable patient feedback loop. 

There is definitely a shift in the way that healthcare is being provided. The transition to a value-based care model will place strain on healthcare providers. I believe various technologies will be able to mitigate these changes, and ensure satisfied and healthy patients.

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Every day I work with doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants and chiropractors. Many of these healthcare practitioners have their own practice, which in essence is still a business. And how do you effectively run a business on your own (with an assistant if you are lucky)? You wear many hats. You have to be the head of customer service, marketing, technology, information systems, financial administration, and not to forget the primary care practitioner who is supposed to see patients. This might sound familiar to many people who have started their own business, but in healthcare it is having a detrimental impact.

When your attention is divided among many different types of roles, you could get lost in a sea of administration. This could negatively impact your patients, or even your business. In a short survey done by SensiCardiac we found that half of Department of Transport (DOT) physical examiners don’t market themselves to carriers in their community. Half don’t use social media, and less than 30% actually post newsletters or blogs. And to be honest, who can blame them? When you have to perform assessments, do administrative tasks, and be the marketing manager, you will try and prioritize the service you are providing to your patients. But this might leave a few blind spots in your business strategy. You might be missing out on some fantastic ways to improve the way your patients feel about your service, reach a wider group of patients, and ensure that the care you are providing is the best that you can.

Healthcare practitioners are providing valuable primary care services to patients every day. Primary care is the first defence in ensuring that communities are healthy. I believe that this is the way towards a healthier general population. I also believe that this is linked to technology. Technology is supposed to simplify diagnostics, improve your care, and ensure that patients leave your practice healthier or with correct treatments. But most technology is just adding to the burden of administrative tasks that you need to perform in order to provide a great service. I think it is our challenge as technology leaders to ensure that primary care practitioners are receiving the best ways to diagnose patients, ensure that the diagnosis is provided in an easy-to-understand format, and stop us from overworking an already overworked part of our population. Let’s simplify their lives, and ensure that the many hats become less of a burden.

 

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Posted by on in Clinical Techniques

There seems to be a slight problem in the digital healthcare industry. Ok well not a slight problem, a few massive gaps. In a recent Forbes article Todd Hixon discusses why healthcare practitioners are frustrated with digital health companies. And I am inclined to agree.

Healthcare practitioners have been encouraged, either by companies, their peers or the healthcare community to accept new technologies into their practices. Instead of assisting them in making valuable diagnostic decisions, simplifying their lives and making it, well, easier to deliver healthcare, it has been plagued with issues. Most of these technologies have usability issues, and do not deliver useable results to the practitioners. These systems are hard-to-use, are sometimes divided into multiple systems (i.e. no integration on multiple platforms), and they are not allowing practitioners to enable their patients to engage in their care. So digital healthcare is not being seen in a very pretty light.

I think this has its origin in a few places. Firstly the adoption of technology is at a very slow pace. In most other industries, like consumer electronics, aviation, automotive and automation, retail etc. there seems to be a much higher uptake on new technologies. These technologies have been positioned to reduce production times, increase sales, simplify their work etc. In healthcare, however, it is moving at a snail’s pace.

A review article published by England, Stewart and Walker discussed the problem of information technology adoption in healthcare. They found that organizational factors within healthcare as well as the delivery of products and services by vendors are to blame. Healthcare organizations seem to be very complex and tend to have fragmented internal structures. This can delay the adoption of new technologies, as well as hinder the implementation of a one-time digital solution. Health information technology is also relatively immature, can be complicated to implement, and are usually unable to show measurable benefits to healthcare practitioners or larger organizations.

The organizational aspects cannot be directly solved by the digital health industry (or can it?), but we do have the chance to provide simple-to-use technologies that are great for the user. It must show a direct benefit (saving time, reducing costs, improving patient participation in their care etc.) to the healthcare industry. Otherwise the adoption will continue to be painfully slow.

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