In 1985 I had the good fortune to study in Sweden. I made many good friends and loved the natural beauty. I also learned a lot about healthcare in what is essentially a socialist country.
Sweden was (and is) by no means perfect. Progressive taxation had disincentivized hard work leading to something of a brain drain. Many of the physicians I met were looking to emigrate. On the flip side, Swedish healthcare was accessible and high quality. The government viewed healthcare as a responsibility and right rather than an option. The relatively small and homogeneous population (8 million in 1985) allowed central planning. On the campus of the Karolinska Institute, their version of the NIH, there were regional specialty hospitals: a hospital for the heart, the G.I. tract, the nervous system, etc.
This contrasts with American healthcare where hospitals offer specialty services on nearly every corner. Here in Phoenix, a patient with cancer can choose from Banner / MD Anderson, Mayo Clinic, Dignity Health / UA Cancer Center, and Cancer Treatment Centers of America, along with several other institutes. How did such choice come about? As a nation, we hold certain truths to be self-evident. Near the top of the list, we believe competition is a good thing. In just about every business open markets lead to higher quality goods and services and ever decreasing prices. Right? So how come on almost every measure Swedish healthcare trumps the American system? Sweden spends half as much per capita
[JL1] but on average its citizens live four years longer.
When a family member was a new mom she called me concerned about her 7-day old baby’s breathing.I almost sent them to the ER. Then she asked me if we could FaceTime. What I saw was a warm, pink, dry baby looking around, looking quite well to me. I was able to tell that she had no labored breathing, no retractions or nasal flaring. She just had a little stuffy nose. I had been answering questions, treating minor ailments and triaging the acutely ill for several years via text, but it was in that moment that I knew the iPhone and other smartphone devices would fundamentally and forever change the way physicians can deliver our services.
Fast forward to next year. An estimated 2 billion people will have smartphones across the world in 2016. Industries are being transformed radically by the widespread uptake of these devices. Healthcare will be no different and will continue to move toward more virtual care enabled by smartphones. As the example above demonstrates, it makes sense for both care and economics.Virtual care and telemedicine worldwide is expected to be a $34 B market by 2020 according to Mordor’s Market Intelligence, with the US accounting for 40% of that, nearing $15 Billion in the next five years. Several early stage tele-medicine companies have raised many millions of dollars in the last several months.
Payment reforms are driving the market toward value-based care and will only accelerate the use of telemedicine via smartphone. Many new forms of payment for medical services are emerging that are not tied to the legacy fee-for-service reimbursement model. Patients are paying more out of pocket and therefore have increasingly aligned interests with payers to reduce costs while achieving better overall health. These changes are, in turn, driving the empowered healthcare consumers’ demand for a better experience and convenience.
The growth in business cases for new models of healthcare delivery and integration of digital health technology is reaching the point of convergence — creating powerful synergies where there was once only data silos and skepticism.
We have not quite achieved this synergy yet, but opportunities emerging in 2015 will move the industry much closer to the long-awaited initiatives in connected, value-based care.
Individuals are constantly hyper-connected to a variety of technology networks and devices. Wearables will continue to enter the market, but their features and focus will go well beyond fitness. Even the devices entering the market now are more sophisticated than ever before. Some are now equipped with tools like muscle activity tracking, EEG, breath monitoring, and UV light measurement.
It will be fascinating to watch how consumer electronics, wearables, and clinical devices continue to merge and take new forms. Some particularly interesting examples will be in the categories of digital tattoos, implantable devices, and smart lenses.
As the adoption of wearables continues to grow, we will continue to see more value placed on accessing digital health data by healthcare and wellness organizations. This will be especially important as healthcare shifts towards value-based models of care. The need to gain access to the actionable data on connected devices will only grow as innovation creates more complex technologies in the market.
There is no question that 2014 was an exciting and eventful year for digital health. Even with all of the advancements and innovations in 2014, this year promises to be even better. The growth in business cases for new models of healthcare delivery and integration of digital health technology is reaching the point of convergence — creating powerful synergies where there was once only data silos and skepticism.
Maybe we have not quite achieved this synergy yet, but the trends emerging in 2015 will move the industry much closer to the long-awaited initiatives in connected, value-based care.. To understand the convergence that is taking place in digital health, we need to examine the key emerging trends in technology, healthcare and business.
Connecting to Smart Clinical Devices
Technology has advanced to the point that we are constantly hyper-connected to a variety of networks and devices. We have handheld diagnostic tools on our person continuously generating an astounding amount of data.
The types of health devices that are connectable and disseminating data are rapidly changing. Tools are emerging like flash thermometers that do not require physical touch, which diminish contamination risks, and smart EpiPen casings that automatically alert medical professionals during an allergic reaction.
These devices are not only becoming less expensive, but they are also starting to be reimbursable by insurers. Thus, over time these devices will replace traditional, non-connected products. Clinical devices are increasingly designed as Bluetooth-enabled, allowing for the real time collection of patient data, and providing better access and outcomes for patients.
At 22 years old, Justin Fulcher looks like an average, newly graduated, young entrepreneur. But don’t be mistaken by his humble appearance. He is the Founder and CEO of RingMD, one of the fastest growing patient-provider communication platform, granting quality and affordable health care to people worldwide.
Founded in 2012 in Singapore, RingMD is a mobile based platform that connects patients with doctors via video or phone. Users input their symptoms, chose the format for the call, provide a mode of transaction, and get access to a list of providers based on location, price, ratings, insurance coverage, availability etc. Provider profiles have detailed biography, and feature dynamic pricing, making it an active health care marketplace. Patients can upload files in real time to share with the consulting doctor, and their EMR history is shown in a split screen on the provider side. Doctor notes are shareable, in both text and video formats.
RingMD has been an active telehealth provider in Singapore, Hong Kong, and other Asian countries, and is now ready to enter the US market. Mr. Fulcher visited Health 2.0 headquarters recently and shared his story with us.
Following is an excerpt from the interview:Continue reading…
Given what is now known about how the case of Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian was handled, the attempt to blame the hospital’s electronic health record for the missed diagnosis sounds pretty lame.
But people are still doing it:
Critics of electronic medical records have found a case they will be talking about for years.
Consider this argument from Ross Koppel and Suzanne Gordon:
While it is too early to determine what precisely happened in this case, it is not too early to consider the critical issues it highlights. One is our health care system’s reliance on computerized technology that is too often unfriendly to clinicians, especially those who work in stressful situations like a crowded emergency room. Then there are physicians’ long-standing failure to pay attention to nurses’ notes. Finally, there is the fact that hospitals often discourage nurses from assertively challenging physicians.
Long promised as the panacea for patient safety errors, electronic health records, in fact, have fragmented information, too often making critical data difficult to find. Often, doctors or nurses must log out of the system they are on and log into another system just to access data needed to treat their patients (with, of course, additional passwords required). Worse, data is frequently labeled in odd ways. For example, the results of a potassium test might be found under “potassium,” “serum potassium level,” “blood tests” or “lab reports.” Frequently, nurses and doctors will see different screen presentations of similar data, making it difficult to collaborate.
With the fast adoption of smart phones, tablets and wearable devices, the way people communicate, travel, eat and entertain have all been simplified. Why not streamline the way we experience healthcare as well? A study released in May 2014 from MDLive discovered that 82% of young adults 18-34 would prefer consulting with their doctor via a mobile device than show up for an appointment. Twenty seven percent of patients confirmed they’d be willing to give up shopping for a month, skip their next vacation, even refrain from showers for a week—if it meant they would be able to access their doctor via a smart phone! These results, along with the multiple surveys and studies conducted in the past year, confirm that a new way to conduct healthcare services is in high demand.
The solution to changing up the healthcare system sits at the center of three key advancements: patient engagement, population health and electronic health records (EHRs). At eClinicalWorks, we consider these components of healthcare to be like a three-legged stool where two cannot stand without the other. We recognized this need as an opportunity within the healthcare IT space and created healow in order to provide our customers and their patients with a platform to schedule doctors’ appointments and get immediate access to medical records via an online interface or mobile app. healow empowers doctors and patients by packaging personal health records (PHRs), healthcare tools and appointment scheduling together, making the data readily accessible to patients and their doctors from the palm of their hand.
The nation’s ongoing battle to strike a delicate balance between increasing access to quality health care for all Americans and reducing overall health care spending just scored one of its most substantial victories.
In late April, after several months of thoughtful and robust collaboration, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) ratified a new model national policy – the Appropriate Use of Telemedicine in the Practice of Medicine – at its annual meeting in Denver.
This marks the first time the medical community has unilaterally acknowledged the impact technology has had on the practice of medicine, and the ability telemedicine — or connected health — has to facilitate and improve the delivery of health care.
Let us first put this in perspective. We all know health care is at a critical juncture. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act means millions of newly eligible Americans will seek access to an already over-burdened health care system.
The nation faces a serious shortage of primary care providers, specialty care is becoming more diversified, and access to care in rural areas is an ongoing challenge. All of these issues are on the rise.
Enter technology-enabled care. Real-time video encounters between patients and providers reverse the burden on patients to seek care in a hospital or doctor’s office by bringing health care directly to them, in their home. At the same time, remote monitoring, sensors, mobile health and other technologies are helping to reduce hospital readmissions, and improving adherence to care plans and clinical outcomes, as well as patient satisfaction.
Connected health tools also support preventative care efforts for chronic care patients and can empower individuals to make positive lifestyle changes to improve their overall health and wellness.
Momentum for telehealth is accelerating at an undeniable rate. As of March, twenty states and the District of Columbia have passed mandates for coverage of commercially provided telehealth services; 46 states offer some type of Medicaid reimbursement for services provided via telehealth.
A study by Deloitte predicts that this year alone, there will be 100 million eVisits globally, potentially saving over $5 billion when compared to the cost of face-to-face doctor visits. This represents a growth of 400 percent in video-based virtual visits from 2012 levels, and the greatest usage is predicted to occur in North America, where there could be up to 75 million visits in 2014. This would represent 25 percent of the addressable market.
In the United States, a tangled web of federal and state regulations controls physician licensing. Although federal standards govern medical training and testing, each state has its own licensing board, and doctors must procure a license for every state in which they practice medicine (with some limited exceptions for physicians from bordering states, for consultations, and during emergencies).
This bifurcated system makes it difficult for physicians to care for patients in other states, and in particular impedes the practice of telemedicine. The status quo creates excessive administrative burdens and like contributes to worse health outcomes, higher costs, and reduced access to health care.
We believe that, short of the federal government implementing a single national licensing scheme, states should adopt mutual recognition agreements in which they honor each other’s physician licenses. To encourage states to adopt such a system, we suggest that the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) create an Innovation Model to pilot the use of telemedicine to provide access to underserved communities by offering funding to states that sign mutual recognition agreements.
The Current System And Its Drawbacks
State licensure of physicians has been widespread in the United States since the late nineteenth century. Licensure laws were ostensibly enacted to protect the public from medical incompetence and to control the unrestrained entry into the practice of medicine that existed during the Civil War. However, it no longer makes sense to require a separate medical license for each state.
Today, medical standards are evidence-based, and guidelines for medical training are set nationally through the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Graduate Medical Education standards, and the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. All U.S. physicians must pass either the United States Medical Licensure Examinations or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination.
Although the basic standards for initial physician licensure are uniform across states, states impose a patchwork of requirements for acquiring and maintaining licenses. These requirements are varied and burdensome and deter doctors from obtaining the licenses required to practice across state lines.
The medical board of the state of Oklahoma recently sanctioned a physician for using Skype to conduct patient visits. A number of other factors add color to the board’s action, including that the physician was prescribing controlled substances as a result of these visits and that one of his patients died. This situation brings up several challenges of telehealth — that is, using technology to care for patients when doctor and patient are not face-to-face.
• Legal/regulatory: On the legal side, physicians are bound by medical regulations set by each state. It appears that the use of Skype is not permitted for patient care in Oklahoma.
• Privacy/security: Skype says its technology is encrypted, which means that you should not be able to eavesdrop on a Skype call. That would seem to protect patient privacy. At Partners HealthCare, we ask patients to sign consent before participating in a ‘virtual video’ visit. Because this is a new way of providing care, we feel it’s best to inform our patients of the very small risk that their video-based call could be intercepted. I don’t know if the Oklahoma physician was using informed consent or not.
But the most interesting aspects of this case involve the question of quality of care. Can a Skype call substitute for an in-person visit? Under what circumstances?
Video virtual visits are a new mode of care delivery. Whenever anything new comes up in medicine, it is subject to rigorous analysis before entering mainstream care. That same rigor applies to video virtual visits. Although some studies suggest virtual visits can be useful, the evidence is not yet overwhelming. I can’t say with 100% certainty how virtual visits will best be used, but based on several pilot programs under way at Partners, I have a hunch or two.
We have believed for some time that this technology should be limited to follow up visits, where the patient and physician already have a well-established relationship. Technologies such as Skype and Facetime allow for a robust conversation, but most doctors’ visits require much more than just conversation. For example, any time a physical exam is required, this technology will not work well. That’s why one of our first pilot studies was to implement video technology for mental health follow up visits (as did the doctor in Oklahoma).
Our early results are promising. It seems that virtual video visits for mental health offer both the provider and the patient important benefits. For many mental health patients, it can be stressful to travel to the doctor’s office. When a patient is being evaluated for a medication adjustment, for example, they are not at their best. The convenience of having a follow-up visit from their own home can be a big lift for these patients. On the other hand, doctors often feel that the home environment is particularly relevant in sorting out mental health problems. A virtual visit allows them to, in effect, conduct a virtual house call.