Blog posts tagged in digital healthcare

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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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Posted by on in Uncategorized

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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A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…oh wait, not so long ago, in our galaxy, technical support was a different ball game. If something that your company produced broke and the factory was in another country, you either made a plan to fix it locally, or order the part and wait out the months as it was being shipped to you. This is still the case in many industries, but in healthcare technology this has changed dramatically.

With the advent of information technology and smart support systems, the tech support landscape has changed. Now, with the click of a button, a support technician can help you establish what the problem is, talk you through a problem, and have you up and running within a few minutes. This is wonderful, but can sometimes also be a challenge. Support technicians might be in other countries, causing a delay in when you can appropriately schedule calls. This can be frustrating for multinational companies. But I believe some of these problems can be mitigated by providing excellent customer support.

The first thing a client support consultant must do is try keep your client happy. This is the most important thing to remember. If you behave like a idiot in front of your client and try to blame them for the mistake you most likely will lose your client and this will have a ripple effect across the whole company. To counter this you need to approach the problem from a different angle. You need to fit in with your client’s schedule, this can be difficult but an arrangement can always be made so that both parties are happy about the arranged time.

You must always keep an open line of communication. Talk to your client and try to understand the frustration that they are experiencing. Most of the time the problem is easily solved and can be fixed within 10 minutes. If it takes longer remember the second rule: keep your client informed. An informed client will be a happy client. If a user knows that you are working on the problem, they will mostly show patience as they know they are your current priority.

Great technical support does not end there. Once the problem is resolved, contact your client after a few days and ask if everything is working. This is the last step to a happy client. This helps in keeping the communication channel open.   

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Posted by on in Clinical Decision Support

A while ago I was at a panel discussion on the advantages and concerns of electronic health records at a conference in Boston, MA. A few weeks before, our family physician passed away at the age of 89. He practiced in the day’s before the internet and his mind was our search engine for any health related issues. With his death, three generations' health information also passed away. I can’t remember a computer on his desk, but he still remembered to phone me on my birthday, 21 years after he assisted my transition into this life.

He auscultated each member of my extended family’s hearts. He knew exactly how our hearts were beating. He was also available 24/7. Always ready to assist.

While listening to the discussion on electronic health records, I thought to myself how uncomplicated were the days before information systems. When you had access to a single person with a wealth of information, not only on you, but your whole extended family. The days where there was a direct link between the cost, value and outcome of the service you received.

There is a school of thought that we should move back to a system where we have a single point of entry into the healthcare system. A point with access to my extended medical history. A point that could effectively manage my health. But how realistic is that? We are a generation that’s on the move.

So, the idea of building a relationship with a virtual doctor came to my mind. Imagine my family could also visit the same “virtual” doctor for the next few generations. Imagine if this doctor could learn the in’s and out’s of each of my family members' health. Imagine if this virtual doctor would know exactly how each family member's heart sounds. If it can provide you with individual care and specialist advice from the comfort of your couch.

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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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