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Tag: Tech

Google Glass: A Paradigm Shift in Assessing Procedure Competency?

I recently had the privilege of becoming a Google Glass Explorer.  Basically, this means I walk around with a funky pair of glass frames and look strange – even for an urban hospital setting.

The Glass has a built in camera, and a small display that you can see with numerous apps ranging from GPS navigation to searching the Web.  As cool as this the technology is – is there any utility in the healthcare setting?

There is the capability of video chat, where a consulting physician can see what I would be seeing in the operating room, and tell me what I may be looking at and what to do next. Pristine Eyesight, based in Austin Texas, is trialing this use of  Glass in University of California, Irvine. Applications for nursing are being developed as well.  Yet will this truly impact quality? I am not sure.

Yet one thing that intrigues me about the Glass is the perspective given when using the video function.  I recorded some small surgical procedures and reviewed the video afterwards. I watched where I placed my hands, how I held the needle driver, where I took my bites, and in general – what I looked at during the case.

I felt like an NFL Coach reviewing game tape.  For the first time in my surgical career, I was able to really see what I did, a perspective that I had never before experienced. This lightweight device with built in eye protection was far more comfortable than any helmet-cam I had used, and the line of sight was right in tune with my visual field. So I began thinking – is there a way this tool can improve outcomes in healthcare?

According to the American College of Surgeons, almost 5,000,000 central venous catheters are placed annually in this country.  Complications including placement failure, arterial puncture and pneumothorax range from 15-33% in numerous studies.  So how is this common procedure taught?

The classic “watch one, do one, teach one” methodology has been modified over the years.  Now, after watching a few lines placed, house staff must perform a certain number of central line placements (usually 5) under the supervision of a senior resident, fellow or attending.  Once the appropriate number is reached, the trainee is “competent” to perform the procedure on his or her own.   Yet are they truly competent? Perhaps the high complication rates result from a flaw in this classic teaching methodology?

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Caveat User: Understanding the Health Risks of Mobile Devices

Tis the season to, well, buy stuff. Increasingly, the stuff we buy is electronic. In fact, not only that, but increasingly the stuff we buy with is electronic, too. We are using gizmos to shop for gadgets, or possibly gadgets to shop for gizmos.

In any event, we are ever more frequently in the company of the energy fields our electronic devices, and in particular our smart phones, generate. This deserves more attention than most of us accord it.

Don’t get me wrong — I am not suggesting we return to the pre-cell phone days when we lived in dark caves. We are fully ensconced in the electronics era, and there appears to be no going back. I am as fully dependent on electronic devices as anyone, and maybe more than most, living much of my life these days online. Like so many, I am both beneficiary and victim of the attendant efficiencies. On the one hand, I can’t recall how we ever got anything done in the days before instantaneous communication and push-of-a-button document transmission.

On the other, I do long for the freedom of the time before an unending stream of emails became my manacles. I did sleep better in the days before bedtime meant checking one last time to see who in the world needed what, and/or finding out that someone in cyberspace thinks I’m a moron. Oh, well.

Some of the risks related particularly to mobile phone use are well known. The dangers of distracted driving are common knowledge, with cell phone use now implicated in at least 25 percent of all car crashes. There is some evidence that ambient levels of empathy — our ability to understand and connect to one another’s emotional state — are declining, and possibly due to the frequency with which technology comes between us. A recent study among college students finds that more frequent use of cell phones correlates with impairment of academic performance, and increased anxiety — although the study could not prove cause and effect.

But the greatest and most insidious risk of cell phone use pertains to the electromagnetic fields of non-ionizing radiation they produce. What makes this risk insidious is our potential to dismiss it altogether, in part because it is convenient to do so, and in part because it’s hard to take seriously a potential menace that is totally invisible. I suspect we are all at least somewhat prone to a “what I can’t see, feel, taste, smell or hear can’t hurt me” mentality.

But of course, that’s clearly wrong, as we all have cause to know. Anyone who has ever had an X-ray has experienced first hand the power of an invisible force, in this case ionizing radiation, to penetrate deeply into our bodies. Anyone who has had a MRI has experienced the capacity of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields to do the same. What we can’t see or feel can, in fact, reach to our innermost nooks and crannies, both to produce vivid images of our anatomy — and exert other effects.

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Through Google Glass, Maybe

Everybody is hopping on the wearables bandwagon. Since the publication of my HBR article on wearables, I’ve been asked a number of follow-up questions from executives, tech analysts, and most especially from entrepreneurs.
Though the questions vary, they generally fall into three buckets.

“Aren’t Head-up Displays (HUDs) like Google Glass where the market is going?”

No. Not necessarily. Pricey (and for now, socially awkward-looking) HUDs will likely be a sliver of the nearly half-billion units that will ship by 2018. By comparison, most other types of wearables will be relatively cheap, and as socially unobtrusive as a ring or wristband.

No doubt, there will be well-defined segments of HUD wearers. For instance, emergency first responders and many disabled people will immediately benefit from additional contextual information the tools display that enhance safety and the ability to navigate tricky situations. The more you consider real data and use-cases, the more you see wearables’ potential to support humanistic aspirations.

However, as I suggest in my HBR piece, we should vigorously question the ethics and effectiveness of any “asymmetrical” uses of HUDs. The presumption that a Google Glass wearer has a right to ascertain information from others who haven’t opted in isn’t necessarily socially acceptable. (HBR editor Scott Berinato calls Glass wearers who point their devices at others who haven’t opted in “glassholes”). It may not even be legal. In the work place, any use absolutely must be accompanied by clearly stated benefits to the employee (not just the employer) and ensure her data privacy. Otherwise, it’s Orwellian.

Aren’t wearables basically just a hands-free PC or smartphone?

Some wearables are indeed the next stage in the evolution from PCs to smartphones to tablets. Samsung’s watch, for example, tethers to its phone and lets you take and receive calls and texts. But many others tools and applications, such as the one I describe below, are discontinuous. They support radically new ways to improve work and society. The opportunity in the discontinuous space is probably bigger, and certainly some of the killer apps for wearables haven’t even been conjured yet. Something will take us by surprise.

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Making Health Addictive

I first posed the question, “Could Mobile Health Become Addictive?” on August 20th.  Since then I’ve done more thinking and I’m warming to the concept.

To start with, addiction is a word laden with negative meaning.  When we hear the word, we think of opiates, street drugs, cigarettes, or possibly gambling.  In fact, Wikipedia defines addiction as, “the continued repetition of a behavior despite adverse consequences.”  So, with that definition as backdrop, is there any way health can really be addictive?  Probably not.

What I’m really talking about is the juxtaposition of motivational health messaging with some other addictive behavior, specifically checking your smartphone.

New evidence shows that people are in love with these devices, checking them more than 100 times per day!  I’ve heard people are tapping in 110, even 150 times a day. Of course this varies, but let’s face it, we check our smartphones a lot and it’s hard to stop.  A somewhat disturbing video makes the case well.  It’s easy to build a case that smartphones are addictive.

Recent research shows that checking your phone results in a small release of the neurochemical dopamine.  Dopamine release has long been associated with ingestion of addictive substances such as heroin and tobacco.  In fact, once the pattern of ingestion and dopamine release is established, even thinking about the ingestion triggers the dopamine release, the biochemical explanation for cravings.

For this post and a series to follow, I choose not to question whether this compulsive relationship with smartphones is good or bad, but simply to acknowledge that it is common, almost universal among smartphone users and to ask if we can exploit it as tool to improve your health.

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What’s Next for Healthcare.gov?

The launch of HealthCare.gov certainly didn’t go as planned. Due to technical errors, millions of Americans were sent to the functional equivalent of a waiting room before they could enter the shopping portion of the site.

Historically, projects of such complexity and demand have encountered early problems yet still often achieve great success. While much of the commentary has focused on coding problems, the site still has the potential to spur innovation — be it public or private —  that will result in quality improvement and lower costs.

For context, the HealthCare.gov site is merely the front door to an incredibly complex technological undertaking tasked with organizing insurance plans, assessing program eligibility, facilitating consumer enrollment, managing financial services, and providing all of the associated customer support.

An estimated 19 million people visited the site through Sunday, and many did so at the same time; at peak periods, there were five times as many simultaneous visitors as had been expected. In rapid response to that surge, the HealthCare.gov team tried to restrict the number of visitors to the area of the site where they could establish accounts and begin shopping.

Naturally, this was not ideal, but it was preferable to the alternative.

When Internet entrepreneurs prepare to launch a new service, they tend to anticipate two scenarios. The first, and worst, is that nobody visits. The other is that too many people do.

Rise of a new platform

Drawing from my experience as CTO in President Barack Obama’s first term, we overcame initial technical challenges in popular programs such as “Cash for Clunkers” or the Post-9/11 GI Bill of Rights for veterans through an analysis of the root cause problems — and a systematic plan to address them.

I’m confident that the HealthCare.gov team will similarly fix the technology with the help of experienced technical talent – in and out of government – to work through its punch list. The site should continue to improve in the weeks ahead, building toward Dec. 15.

But the real story, likely to play out over the coming months, will be its rise as a new platform for innovation – one that will lead to the creation of new private sector services to improve our nation’s health.

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* Patients Not Included

A few weeks ago, I went for the first time to Stanford’s Medicine X conference. It’s billed as a conference that brings a “broad, academic approach to understanding emerging technologies with the potential to improve health and advance the practice of medicine.”

Well, I went, I saw, and I even briefly presented (in a workshop on using patient-generated data).

And I am now writing to tell you about the most important innovations that I learned about at Medicine X (MedX).

They were not the new digital health technologies, even though we heard about many interesting new tools, systems, and apps at the conference, and I do believe that leveraging technology will result in remarkable changes in healthcare.

Nor were they related to social media, ehealth, or telehealth, even though all of these are rapidly growing and evolving, and will surely play important roles in the healthcare landscape of the future.

No. The most remarkable innovations at MedX related to the conference itself, which was unlike any other academic conference I’ve been to. Specifically, the most important innovations were:

  • Patients present to tell their stories, both on stage and in more casual conversational settings such as meals.
  • Patient participation in brainstorming healthcare solutions and in presenting new technologies. MedX also has an ePatient Advisors group to help with the overall conference planning.

These innovations, along with frequent use of storytelling techniques, video, and music, packed a powerful punch. It all kept me feeling engaged and inspired during the event, and left me wishing that more academic conferences were like this.

These innovations point the way to much better academic conferences. Here’s why:

The  power of patient presence

I wasn’t surprised to see lots of patients at Medicine X, because I knew that the conference has an e-patient scholars program, and that many patients would be presenting. I also knew that the director of MedX, Dr. Larry Chu, is a member of the Society of Participatory Medicine. (Disclosure: I’ve been a member of SPM since last December.)

I was, on the other hand, surprised by how powerful it was to have patients on stage telling their stories.

How could it make such a difference? I am, after all, a practicing physician who spends a lot of time thinking about the healthcare experience of older adults and their caregivers.

But it did make a difference. I found myself feeling more empathetic, and focused on the patient and family perspective. And I felt more inspired to do better as a physician and as a healthcare problem-solver.

In short, having patients tell their stories helped me engage with the conference presentations in a more attentive and meaningful way.

Now, some will surely be tempted to wave this off as a gauzy touchy-feely experience that is peculiar to the fruit-cakes of the Bay Area; a nice conference touch that isn’t materially important to the purpose of an academic conference.

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Why Calling it a “Tech Surge” May Not Be the Best Idea in History

Now that our federal government is back at work and the short term debt ceiling thing is resolved, it should be no surprise that the news cycle is now obsessed with Obamacare and its flawed implementation. Over the weekend I must have seen a dozen articles about this online and in the NY Times, and then I woke up this morning to a bunch of new things about the Healthcare.gov site underlying tech, how screwed up it is, and what / how the Health and Human Services agency is going to do to fix it.

The punch line – a tech surge.

To ensure that we make swift progress, and that the consumer experience continues to improve, our team has called in additional help to solve some of the more complex technical issues we are encountering.

Our team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve HealthCare.gov.  We’re also putting in place tools and processes to aggressively monitor and identify parts of HealthCare.gov where individuals are encountering errors or having difficulty using the site, so we can prioritize and fix them.  We are also defining new test processes to prevent new issues from cropping up as we improve the overall service and deploying fixes to the site during off-peak hours on a regular basis.

From my perspective, this is exactly the wrong thing to do. Many years ago I read Fredrick Brooks iconic book on software engineering – The Mythical Man-Month. One of his key messages is that adding additional software engineers to an already late project will just delay things more. I like to take a different approach – if a project is late, take people off the project, shrink the scope, and ship it faster.

I think rather than a tech surge, we should have a “tech retreat and reset.” There are four easy steps.

  • 1. Shut down everything including taking all the existing sites offline.
  • 2. Set a new launch date of July 14, 2014.
  • 3. Fire all of the contractors.
  • 4. Hire Harper Reed as CTO of Healthcare.gov, give him the ball and 100% of the budget, and let him run with it.

If Harper isn’t available, ask him for three names of people he’d put in charge of this. But put one person – a CTO – in charge. And let them hire a team – using all the budget for individual hires, not government contractors or consulting firms.

Hopefully the government owns all the software even though Healthcare.gov apparently violates open source licenses. Given that, the new CTO and his team can quickly triage what is useful and what isn’t. By taking the whole thing offline for nine months, you aren’t in the hell of trying to fix something while it’s completely broken. It’s still a fire drill, but you are no longer inside the building that is burning to the ground.

It’s 2013. We know a lot more about building complex software than we did in 1980. So we should stop using approaches from the 1980s, admit failure when it happens, and hit reset. Doing a “tech surge” will only end in more tears.

Brad Feld is the managing director at the Foundry Group. This post originally appeared at his site, FeldThoughts.

Knocking on Health 2.0’s Door

I recently attended the flagship Health 2.0 conference for the first time.

To avoid driving in traffic, I commuted via Caltrain, and while commuting, I read Katy Butler’s book “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”

Brief synopsis: healthy active well-educated older parents, father suddenly suffers serious stroke, goes on to live another six years of progressive decline and dementia, life likely extended by cardiologist putting in pacemaker, spouse and daughter struggle with caregiving and perversities of healthcare system, how can we do better? See original NYT magazine article here.

(Although the book is subtitled “The Path to a Better Way of Death,” it’s definitely not just about dying. It’s about the fuzzy years leading up to dying, which generally don’t feel like a definite end-of-life situation to the families and clinicians involved.)

The contrast between the world in the book — an eloquent description of the health, life, and healthcare struggles that most older adults eventually endure — and the world of Health 2.0’s innovations and solutions was a bit striking.

I found myself walking around the conference, thinking “How would this help a family like the Butlers? How would this help their clinicians better meet their needs?”

The answer, generally, was unclear. At Health 2.0, as at many digital health events, there is a strong bias toward things like wellness, healthy lifestyles, prevention, big data analytics, and making patients the CEOs of their own health.

Oh and, there was also the Nokia XPrize Sensing Challenge, because making biochemical diagnostics cheap, mobile, and available to consumers is not only going to change the world, but according to the XPrize rep I spoke to, it will solve many of the problems I currently have in caring for frail elders and their families.

(In truth it would be nice if I could check certain labs easily during a housecall, and the global health implications are huge. But enabling more biochemical measurements on my aging patients is not super high on my priority list.)

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Why Badly Designed iPad Apps Put Patients at Risk: EMS and ePCR

Everyone who knows my writing can attest that I neither pull punches nor play politics. It may distress people, and hopefully it won’t harbinger my demise.  But as CEO of a young firm bringing overdue innovations to the Fire and Emergency Medical Services industry, there are only four groups to whom I am duty-bound: our partner-clients, their patients, our team members, and our investors (in no specific order).  To remain mum on topics that could affect the physical or financial health and wellbeing of any of these parties would be a disservice.

When I was in the magazine business, I often used the phrase “Respect the medium.”  The meaning was simple: when every industry player surfing the waves of innovation is trying something new, how many are asking whether the form is appropriate to the intended function?  What changes need to be made to magazine’s font so its text can be read clearly on a small, backlit screen?  What interactivity can be embedded into a digitally delivered? How will the user’s experience change when network access is down?  (In February 2012, I wrote about these topics for Electronic Design Magazine.)

Failure to ask these questions is often the downfall of the delivery method: either the medium changes or its use declines; rarely do customers acclimate.  In the publishing world, if your readers ignore you, you go away—no lasting harm or foul.  Not so in healthcare or public safety. Especially during emergencies, if a product fails to work as intended—or to work at all—it can mean lost productivity, mountainous legal fees, brain death, or loss of life, limb and property.

Healthcare IT offers outsized benefits to Emergency Response teams, which depend on speed, ease of training and use, data accuracy, and interoperability.  But the stakes of failure or disruption are so high that one can say there are few areas of development with a more desperate need for criticism.

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How Identity Verification Caused Chaos on the State and Federal Exchanges

We may be getting a better idea why the federal exchange and so many state exchanges aren’t working.

An article in Saturday’s Baltimore Sun, regarding Maryland’s problems, provides insight I have not seen elsewhere:

Problems began immediately after the exchange launched Tuesday, as people tried to create accounts and log onto the site.

State officials blamed the account creation process, in which people were routed to a federal questionnaire to verify their identity. The system, they said, became overwhelmed when so many people tried to access it.

So, it appears all of the exchanges are facing the same bottleneck at the federal level–the identity verification software the feds are running for themselves and the state exchanges.

Then the Sun article provided more insight:

Requiring people to create accounts to access the system may be one of the problems, said Jonathan Wu, co-founder of consumer finance website ValuePenguin, who has a computer science background. Some states, including Kentucky [which as been about the only state running well], let people browse insurance plans without an account, which was only needed to purchase insurance. Kentucky did not have as big a backlog, he said.

“It’s kind of an architectural and software issue,” Wu said. “You are not accounting for how people want to use the system.”

With personal accounts, the computer system has to work harder, storing information about everyone who accesses the website, he said. It also has to repeatedly confirm the identity of the person, which also can bog down the system, Wu said. He noted that all the functions on the website that don’t require an account have run smoothly.

“It has to match your account every step you make,” Wu said. “This causes extra overhead.”

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