Telemedicine company American Well developed an app called AmWell. It was the most downloaded health app in 2014 and will play a big part in Apple’s HeathKit. At it’s most basic level, AmWell is a doctor in your pocket that makes access to health care professionals seamless, easy, and inexpensive. You bring your phone everywhere, so you bring your access to top-notch clinicians everywhere. Despite the convenience, however, telemedicine has still not reached its potential. What this technology might look like in the near future is fairly easy to imagine. For example, your smartphone can be equipped with cheap diagnostic tools that would help you and your doc figure out whether you have a cold or pneumonia from home. Perhaps these results can be fed by and will feed the various health apps on your phone which can then connect to your electronic health records, where all of your health care providers including your nurses, internists, nutritionalists, and therapists will be able to gain easy access (at your discretion). Really, this isn’t too far fetched at all.
It’s a little more difficult, however, to fully visualize everyone everywhere using it. So what’s stopping that?
The (few) bumps:
- Governing bodies, policies, enforcement incentives and general awareness are struggling to catch up to the rapid pace of technology innovation.
- We have failed as markets and communicators and to some degree, innovators, to speak to and build for the diverse demographics of the American population.
- Education needs to be better. We are striving for a fundamental shift in the clinician-patient relationship, and though we are seeing positive changes daily, it is clear by digital health still being called something other than just health, wellbeing, or living, that it has not fully caught on. There needs to be trust and confidence amongst patients and practitioners around new technologies.
The progress (now and later):
- What was evident at the mHealth Summit this year was the notion of weeding through the maze of gadgets and “disruptive innovation” to find those gems that truly have significant use-value. Also evident was that those succeeding are those reaching across their industry divides to collaborate. For example, Intel and Michael J Fox Foundation’s effort to study wearables in tracking Parkinson disease symptoms; or Walgreens and various digital health partnerships; or Flip the Clinic’s open experiment for multiple stakeholders at local centers to come together to first identify pain points and then come up with viable solutions. Clearly there is not one way to get the desired result. The challenge across the boards is locating value in what exists right now and building upon that.
- At the Center for Sustainable Health where I am a research consultant, we are trying to validate use-value for wearable technologies and other digital health technologies within clinical environments. By inviting doctorate nursing students to assist in the design of the observational clinical trials, there is critical education happening, too. Future leaders in health care are being trained to test and validate new technologies without disrupting hospital operations (too much). This is invaluable.
- Journalists, marketers, and PR people have helped flame the fire around technological innovation for health care, but I see more of us talking to each other than talking in a way that is educating the general public. What’s needed more and more are local, boots on the ground communication about what is out there and what will truly make a difference in people’s daily lives. There’s a lot of buzz and conjecture, but I challenge us to do better, do more. Speak in a way that makes all this tech stuff more approachable and relatable. Not just in terms of investment, and broad population health measures. But for the teen in Nevada who wants to know about and find cures for anxiety, or for the over-weight, over-worked father who needs help changing his behavior around daily exercise and nutrition. Huge gaps still exist between communicating the benefits of technology and adoption of that technology.
Sustainable progress will be made from beneath the surface, not from gadgets imposed from above. I’m excited to see more organizational efforts like Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s mission to change the Culture of Health or Esther Dyson’s Way to Wellville Challenge where there is a focus on shifting small everyday bits of behavior toward a larger comprehensive adjustment of how we eat, shop, cook, exercise, sleep, and relax. In this way, having anytime access to our doctor and co-operating our health with clinicians becomes that much more imaginable.