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Tag: FutureMed

Flipping the Doctor’s Office

Consider the doctor’s office: the sanctum of care in American medicine, where a patient enters with a need — a question or an ailment or a concern — and leaves with an answer, a diagnosis or a treatment. That room, with its emblematic atmosphere of exam table and tiny sink and bottles of antiseptic, is in many ways the engine of our health care system, the locus of all our collective knowledge and all our collective resources. It’s where health care happens.

But in a less sentimental light, the doctor’s office doesn’t seem so exalted. Yes, it remains the essential hub for clinical care. But what occurs in that room isn’t exactly ideal, nor state-of-the-art. The doctor-patient encounter is fraught with tension, asymmetrical information, and flat-out incomprehension. It is a high-cost, high-resource encounter with surprisingly limited value and limited returns. It is too cursory to be exhaustive (the infamous fifteen-minute median office visit), too infrequent to create an honest relationship (one or two times a year visits at best), and too anonymous to be personal (the average primary care doc has more than 2,300 patients).

At best, it offers a rare personal connection between doctor and patient. At worst, it is theater. The doctor pretends she remembers the patient, and that she has actually had the time to read the patient’s chart in full; the patient pretends that he hasn’t spent hours on the Internet trying to diagnosis himsef, half-admitting what he’s really doing day to day, and pretending he won’t second- guess the doctor’s orders the moment he gets back to a computer.

As woeful as that sounds, we know that there’s real value here. This encounter can be meaningful; it should and must be meaningful. The doctor is a necessary interface to medicine, and his office is a source of care, expertise, and trust. The patient is eager and receptive to learning, primed for guidance and direction. Pragmatically, the doctor’s visit is a powerful part of modern medicine. The problem is that we, collectively, are not optimizing this resource; we have not reconsidered and re-evaluated how we might exploit the visit to its full advantage.

So how can we improve this situation? How can we fix this thing?
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Five Potential Healthcare Applications for Google Glass

Last week I had the opportunity to test Google Glass.

It’s basically an Android smartphone (without the cellular transmitter) capable of running Android apps, built into a pair of glasses.  The small prism “screen” displays video at half HD resolution.  The sound features use bone conduction, so only the wearer can hear audio output.   It has a motion sensitive accelerometer for gestural commands.    It has a microphone to support voice commands.   The right temple is a touch pad.  It has WiFi and Bluetooth.   Battery power lasts about a day per charge.

Of course, there have been parodies of the user experience but I believe that clinicians can successfully use Google Glass to improve quality, safety, and efficiency in a manner that is less bothersome to the patients than a clinician staring at a keyboard.

Here are few examples:

1.  Meaningful Use Stage 2 for Hospitals – Electronic Medication Admission Records must include the use of “assistive technology” to ensure the right dose of the right medication is given via the right route to the right patient at the right time.   Today, many hospitals unit dose bar code every medication – a painful process.   Imagine instead that a nurse puts on a pair of glasses, walks in the room and wi-fi geolocation shows the nurse a picture of the patient in the room who should be receiving medications.  Then, pictures of the medications will be shown one at a time.  The temple touch user interface could be used to scroll through medication pictures and even indicate that they were administered.

2.  Clinical documentation – All of us are trying hard to document the clinical encounter using templates, macros, voice recognition, natural language processing and clinical documentation improvement tools.     However, our documentation models may misalign with the ways patients communicate and doctors conceptualize medical information per Ross Koppel’s excellent JAMIA article.  Maybe the best clinical documentation is real time video of the patient encounter, captured from the vantage point of the clinician’s Google Glass.   Every audio/visual cue that the clinician sees and hears will be faithfully recorded.

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Are Young Doctors Failing Their Boards? Or Are We Failing Them?

A short piece in The Health Care Blog  reveals (albeit unintentionally) why so many outside of healthcare think the medical establishment still doesn’t get it.

The post, written by a general internist and residency program director, asked why an increasing number of internal medicine doctors are failing their internal medicine board exams.  The pass rate has reportedly declined over the last several years from 90% to 84%.  (Disclosure: I passed this required test about a decade ago.)

His differential included two possibilities:

(1)    The test is getting harder – The testing agency said this wasn’t the case.

(2)    Millennials lack the study habits of their elders, and have become great “looker-upers.” – The author suggested this was a key factor, and several commentators enthusiastically agreed.

The basic thesis here that in the Days of Giants, doctors worked harder, learned more, and were better.  Nowadays, doctors are relatively complacent, less invested, less informed, and are generally worse – which is what’s reflected on the board exams.

Let me suggest a third possibility – perhaps today’s doctors are providing better care to patients than their predecessors were a generation ago.  Maybe today’s doctors have figured out that in our information age, your ability to regurgitate information is less important than your ability to access data and intelligently process it.  Maybe what makes you a truly effective doctor isn’t your ability to assert dominance by the sheer number of facts you’ve amassed, but rather how well you are able to lead a care team, and ensure each patient receives the best care possible.

In other words, what if the problem isn’t the doctors, who are appropriately adapting, but rather the tests (and the medical establishment), which may not be?

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Why Are So Many Younger Doctors Failing Their Boards?

An interesting conversation recently took place among residency program directors in my field of Internal Medicine.

At issue was the declining pass rate of first-time test takers of the ABIM Certification Exam.

It’s a mouthful to say, but the ABIM exam is the ultimate accolade for internists; one is only eligible to take the exam after having successfully completed a three-year residency training period (the part that includes “internship,” right after medical school).

An easy analogy is to say that the board exam is for a doctor what the bar exam is for a lawyer. The difference is that a doctor can still practice if s/he does not pass–they might be excluded from certain jobs or hospital staffs; but certification, while important, is a bit of gilding the lily. [Licensure to practice comes from a different set of exams.]

There’s no doubt it’s a hard test. I was tremendously relieved to have passed it on my first try. Over the last few years, the pass rate for first time takers has fallen from ~90% to a low of 84%.

It may not seem significant, but for 7300 annual test takers, the difference in pass rates affects about 365 people–or one additional non-passing doctor for every day of the year.

In any event, we program directors have taken note. And the falling pass rate has raised questions:

  • Has the test increased in difficulty? No, says the ABIM.
  • Are the study habits of millennials not up to the level of Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers? Now you may be on to something.

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Will the “Instagram for Clinicians” Be a Game-Changing Educational Resource?

Working with clinicians to set up forums where care teams would discuss their patients daily, I was privy to the excited eyes and cheshire cat smiles that accompanied the talk of “woah” patients – the medically rare, gross, or otherwise notable cases which made the day a bit more interesting. The patient with Anton-Babinski Syndrome. The child whose amputated hand was proof he shouldn’t have been playing with an axe. The all-too-common gunshot wounds of every type, notable for their stories more than the wounds.

With the release of Figure 1, a photo-sharing app for health care professionals, those conversations can leave the hospital and enter the cloud; physicians can upload a picture to their feed, and it’ll be instantly available to the world. It’s Instagram for health care workers, except instead of filtered “selfies” and pictures of brunch, it has pictures of rare medical conditions and x-rays of things inserted where they shouldn’t be. It’s a new, neat idea that could change the face of medical education or serve as stress-relieving entertainment. Or both.

Dr. Joshua Landy, co-founder at Movable Sciences, said in an email interview that he created Figure 1 to fill a gap he identified in clinician-to-clinician communication. Currently, “many physicians collect images of interesting or representative cases on their smartphones,” and share with colleagues. Sensing an opportunity, and “recognizing the educational benefit of these images,” Landy created an app that would “harness thousands of educational assets being collected by individuals each day.”

The app opened to the public three weeks ago, and has a user base “well into the thousands,” Landy said. Anyone can download it, but only health care professionals can upload images; once vetted, physicians will have a “Verified Physician” badge on their profiles. Users can search for images of specific conditions and have conversations with others through a commenting feature – which Landy said has already been used as a virtual classroom, with “experienced healthcare professionals answering questions for medical students.”

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Is the End of Search the Beginning of Personalized Prevention?

This past week, Google had its annual developers conference, Google I/O. One of the more provocative talks, called “The End of Search as We Know It,” was by Amit Singhal, who is in charge of search for Google.

The vision, as described by Amit, is that instead of typing words into a box on a website or mobile app, we will have conversations with Google, enabling a much more personalized, refined experience. The holy grail, of course, is that Google analytics become both predictive and prescriptive, serving you content that is just right for you and anticipates your needs.

It seems there is a race on now to achieve this vision. One could argue that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Pandora and others are all in the same mode. Best I can tell, the promise these companies are floating to advertisers is that their ads will be served up to that focused slice of the population that will find their product relevant in the moment.

If you apply this thinking to healthcare, several controversies/topics come to the fore.

Is Google competing with IBM’s Watson? Undoubtedly yes. On the other hand, I’m guessing Google is disenchanted with the consumer health space after the demise of its personal health record (PHR). And IBM seems to be focused on clinician decision support. So early in the game, with respect to healthcare anyway, maybe there is not much competition. The path for clinician decision support is clear and the market obvious, whereas the path and market for consumer health decision support are blurry.

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Is the Online Health Clinic the Wave of the Future?

HealthPartners argues that the answer is yes. In a 2013 Health Affairs article, they argue the following:

HealthPartners in Minnesota launched an online clinic called virtuwell in late 2010. After more than 40,000 cases, we report an average $88 lower cost per episode compared with care received in traditional settings, strong indicators of clinical effectiveness, and a 98 percent “would recommend” rating from customers. The possibility of extrapolating such savings to larger volumes of cases is compelling.

Although I believe that there will be some savings from online health clinics, I believe that much of this perceived savings is due to patients sorting. If relatively healthier patients use the online health clinic, then it could be the case that average costs will be lower for those who use the online services simply due to patient sorting. The report does risk adjust for patient comorbidities and other factors.

Risk adjustment, however, is always imperfect. Thus, three confounding factors could bias these estimates.

  1. Individuals who are more educated, wealthier, more technologically savvy are more likely to use the online health clinic, but are also more likely to be relatively healthy conditional on observables.
  2. Individuals who use the online clinics may be more likely to seek treatment for less severe cases. If this is the case, then the treatment received during the online clinic may appear cheaper than is really the case since treating this same people in the clinic may have been cheaper than the average patient. Thus, there would still be cost savingings but the magnitude would not be as large.
  3. Whereas the points above mention that there could be differences in the types of patients that use the online services, within each individual preferences for online treatment may vary. The less serious an illness appears to be (i.e., the lower the likelihood urgent care is needed from the patient’s perspective) the more likely individuals will seek online care.

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Validating Mrs. X

Mrs. X is a 46 year-old mother of two and wife to an Iraq war veteran. On this particular day she meets with her oncologist to follow up after treatment for skin cancer. Beyond her well-groomed hair, thick plastic framed glasses and coral-red manicured toes, she doesn’t have a clear agenda for her appointment and expectations have only been vaguely outlined. However, this will change.

Wired Magazine asked Mucca Design in 2010 to reimagine the blood test report and the result was an inspiring new way of communicating with patient. 2011 marked the launch of the Tricoder X-Prize worth $10 million supported by X-Prize Foundation and Qualcomm.  The goal is to bring to life the fictional Star Trek multifunctional handheld medical device that can scan, analyze and produce results with a goal to diagnose patients better than or equal to a panel of board certified physicians. And while 2012 launched a series of new medical innovations that leverage the power of the mobile device, 2013 will be a time to bring together these technologies into a web of interconnectedness.

In 2013, Mrs. X and her mobile device will have access to a digital medical record that gives access to prior appointment notes, recorded videos from remote mobile appointments with her team of physicians, and yesterday’s blood work results. New innovations in medicine will create a foundation for Mrs. X to have better access to care, translate her behavior into actionable data all being tied together to provide what is most important: validation.

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Massively Open Online Medicine

The new darling of the online educational community is Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The example which figures most prominently in the popular imagination is the Khan Academy, though its founder says otherwise, noting that MOOCs are merely online transplantations of traditional courses, while Khan Academy offers something different.

Others would take issue with his conclusion, or characterization. A “connectivist” MOOCis based on four principles:

  • Aggregation. The whole point of a connectivist MOOC is to provide a starting point for a massive amount of content to be produced in different places online, which is later aggregated as a newsletter or a web page accessible to participants on a regular basis. This is in contrast to traditional courses, where the content is prepared ahead of time.
  • Remixing, that is, associating materials created within the course with each other and with materials elsewhere.
  • Re-purposing of aggregated and remixed materials to suit the goals of each participant.
  • Feeding forward, sharing of re-purposed ideas and content with other participants and the rest of the world.

Sounds great, but is it working? Can it work? A piece in the current issue of The Washington Monthly took a look and concluded:

Given the current 90 percent dropout rate in most MOOCs, an 8-point gap in completion rates between traditional and online courses offered by community colleges, the 6.5 percent graduation rate even at the respected Western Governors University, and the ambiguity of many other higher education reform ideas, there’s good reason to think that an unbound future might not be so great.

The best American innovations in education were the Land-Grant College Act of 1862, which helped create a system of public universities, and the GI Bill of 1944, which ensured that an entire generation had the money to attend college. This widespread access to the college experience enabled people from working-class backgrounds to advance en masse into professional jobs that required reasoning and logic and extensive knowledge of the world. The question is whether or not we will continue this trend or simply give up and say that a few online classes and specialized training are good enough for the majority of Americans.

In other words: Democratization of higher education – good; MOOCs – not so much.

Why is this relevant to you, gentle reader?

The question is whether the promise of MOOCs, or their inability to deliver, will characterize MOOM — Eric Topol’s neologism, “Massively Open Online Medicine,” used in his HIMSS 2013 keynote.

In health care, a perfect implementation of big data and data analytics, combined with open access for clinicians and patients, would yield a success in MOOM along the lines of a connectivist MOOC.

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A Call For a New Model For Generalist-Specialist Information Exchange

Everybody hates curbside consults – the informal, “Hey, Joe, how would you treat asymptomatic pyuria in my 80-year-old nursing home patient?”-type questions that dominate those Doctor’s Lounge conversations that aren’t about sports, Wall Street, or ObamaCare. Consultants hate being asked clinical questions out of context; they know that they may give incorrect advice if the underlying facts and assumptions aren’t right (the old garbage in, garbage out phenomenon). They also don’t enjoy giving away their time and intellectual capital for free. Risk managers hate curbside consults because they sometimes figure into the pathogenesis of a lawsuit, such as when a hospitalist or ER doctor acts after receiving (non-documented) curbside guidance and things go sideways.

There is some evidence to support this antipathy. A recent study published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine examined 47 curbside consultations by hospitalists, in which formal consults by different hospitalists (unaware of the details of the curbside encounter) were performed soon thereafter. Conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Colorado, the study found that the information given to the curbside consultant was incomplete or inaccurate roughly half the time, and that management advice offered via the two forms of consultation differed 60 percent of the time. (In those cases in which the consultant was given inaccurate or incomplete information, the advice differed more than 90 percent of the time!) This is not the first warning about the dangers of such consults (see also here and here), and it won’t be the last.

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