Building for Providers? Proceed with Caution

"Provider" modeling Google Glass circa 1991

There was a moment, ever so brief, where Google Glass seemed like nothing more than a glorified headband. Admit it. You too saw early users matching their Glass color to their shoes. And if you didn’t, I saw two, which is two too many for the both of us. How Google Glass was going to make a significant impact on the world of Health 2.0 was beyond me until I brushed up on my nineties pop culture with a little help from the boss.

More than twenty years ago, “Terminator 2” had a Google Glass prototype for providers. Of course their “provider” was one extremely fit future “governator” who answers to Arnold, but the glasses were perfect for modern day health care professionals. They were equipped with automatic identification of surroundings, facial recognition, and decision support. In a nutshell, that’s all providers really need, right?

It definitely sounds like the “ideal information system” that Dr. Prentice Tom, Chief Medical Officer of CEP America, described at the Second Annual Silicon Valley Innovation and Technology Summit (hosted by the Northern California HIMSS chapter). His wish list for the perfect piece of tech demanded that it be mobile, have voice recognition, NLP, push relevant information, increase efficiency, and facilitate action and communication over documentation. Problem solved? Not so fast.

The program at the Innovation Summit featured two provider keynotes and two provider-filled panels, which naturally raised some key points surrounding provider and systemic adoption of Health 2.0 technologies. First, thanks to Dr. Tom’s early reference to Google Glass – he did have a giant picture of it onscreen as he described his ideal information system – the event left the distinct impression that providers want Google Glass. No other providers directly referenced Glass, but it became an implied solution for every problem raised thereafter.

Facial recognition for efficient patient care

However, the second message of the day was overwhelmingly clear: getting providers to adopt new health information technology (HIT) is hard. Even Arnold’s stellar glasses would be difficult to implement. And while it’s been said many times that thinking like a physician is key to success in this industry, the feeling communicated throughout the day, most eloquently by Dr. Tom via Bruce Lee, was that for health tech developers, “knowing is not enough, [they] must apply”.

In other words, do not build something for providers thinking it would be nice if they used it because as keynoter Dr. Lyle Berkowitz pointed out, “if you use it” is a false assumption. And, by extension, do not try to build a tool for providers without actually involving providers. For the record, chatting with a few doctors for a couple of hours, going into a garage for nine months, and spitting something out doesn’t count as “involving.”

It seems startups with a physician on their team will have a significant edge when it comes to credibility and understanding workflow, while those without will need to demonstrate how their innovations have been vetted for clinical settings (the UCSF Center for Digital Health Innovation is one organization working with startups to do just that).

The laundry list of barriers to provider adoption is long and stubborn, while new technologies must make improvements within a relatively narrow set of confines: time, quality, or money. Despite the difficulty of innovating for providers, there are still a number of companies working diligently to figure out the right formula for provider-focused health technology as evidenced by the flurry of activity we saw in professional facing Health 2.0 tools this past year.

For example, after the Innovation Summit, I got to see a short demo of a new Google Glass application from EHR provider KareoDr. Tom Giannulli, Kareo’s CMIO, developed the relatively simple app that allows care providers to record portions of their visits with patients, in particular educational material, then transmit this small video to their secure patient portal for the patient and their care team’s use. The process literally requires a few taps to complete and helps engage the patient in their care.

Instantaneous Decision Support!

Kareo’s Google Glass app is a solid example of technology that has been developed, in this case, by a provider that can both increase efficiency and quality of care. It’s not Dr. Prentice Tom’s “ideal information system”, but it is one piece of the puzzle and an elegant tool at that. So for those building for providers, remember to consider Google Glass, don’t build without provider input, and listen carefully to what they have to say. Otherwise, providers may see your tool like the Terminator saw Axl Rose – a waste of ammo.