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February 2021 Digital Health Roundup

Over the past year, with Covid-19 shutdowns keeping people home and out of their doctors’ offices, technology has taken an even more important role in healthcare. From virtual doctor appointments to navigating patient portals, now more than ever, patients need to understand how technology can benefit their health. Each month, Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) will round up some of the most notable digital health news pertinent to empowered patients and their caregivers.

Digital Health

So, what exactly is digital health? According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at fda.gov, digital health includes a broad list of categories, such as health information technology, wearable devices, telehealth and telemedicine, and personalized medicine. The influence of digital technology in healthcare is almost infinite and is revolutionizing the healthcare industry, improving the ability to diagnose and treat disease and to improve the way healthcare is delivered to each individual. In addition, digital tools help to empower patients by giving them more control over their health. Patients can use digital technologies to make more-informed decisions and manage their healthcare. Providers use digital health to make healthcare more affordable, more personal, more efficient, and higher quality. The coming together of technology, patients, providers, information, and connectivity lead to overall improvements in healthcare and better health outcomes. Find more information about digital health and how the FDA is focusing on it here.

How Will Technology Influence Healthcare in 2021?

You may be wondering where you are most likely to see technological influence in your healthcare in 2021. There are several areas. Artificial Intelligence (AI) saw a lot of advancements in 2020, and it is expected to be further used to advance healthcare in 2021, says medcitynews.com. In the oncology field, technology advances are changing the way disease is being diagnosed through pathology, which traditionally is a manual process. In 2021, the trend is moving more and more toward digital pathology, which saves times and labor costs. AI advancements are also being used in areas of triage, diagnosis, and analysis. Digital technology can be used to collect and share patient data from a variety of sources so that doctors can determine the best diagnosis and treatment.

Technology is also expected to continue to expand patient access to medical care through telehealth, increasing personalization of care, quality control, and screening protocols. Get more information about the ways AI is predicted to advance healthcare in 2021 here.

Another area that continues to be widely used in healthcare is Virtual Reality (VR), technology that simulates an experience, according to a recently updated article by news-medical.net. Medical training is one of the most prevalent ways VR is used in healthcare. Students can learn how to manage any type of medical situation through VR simulation giving instructors the opportunity to see how the student would respond in real life. VR is also used to simulate surgeries and give medical professionals visual access to the inside of the human body, without having to dissect cadavers. In some cases, VR training is believed to be superior to more conventional forms of medical training. Learn how VR is being used to treat mental health and addiction, manage pain, shorten physical therapy recovery times, and educate patients here.

Patient Access to Care

One of the most important aspects of digital healthcare is access. Patient portals are being used more and more, but not all patients have access to them, reports healthcareitnews.com. A study involving kidney patients found that many patients aren’t actively engaged in their care and that interventions are needed to make sure all patients have access to patient tools. Patient portals provide access to personal records and educational resources, but studies show that black patients, older patients, and patients who use Medicaid as their primary insurance were not as likely to use patient portals as white patients, younger patients, and patients with other types of insurance. Researchers found that patients who used the portals had more knowledge and better health status, and that they had less disease-related stress. While the use of portals is promoted by health systems, they may actually be widening health disparities for patients who aren’t using or don’t have access to the portals. The study suggests that more effort needs to be made to ensure that all patients have access to the digital tools that can help improve their patient outcomes. Learn more here.

Recognizing that technology is advancing care for many, but that it can also further expand the digital divide, a new group to address the disparities in access to healthcare has been launched, reports healthcareitnews.com. The Telehealth Equity Commission, made up of groups who attended the American Telemedicine Association’s EDGE policy conference, plans to use a data-driven approach to help improve telehealth policy. Learn more here.

One thing is certain: digital technology is here to stay, and its influence on patient health is expanding. To ensure that you have access to all the latest digital healthcare, become a Digitally Empowered patient through Patient Empowerment Network’s free Digitally Empowered™ Course. The course will help you to become more tech-savvy so you can research your condition, ask informed questions, and take an active role in shared decision making with your care team. Access the course here.

Uber Health and Five More Groundbreaking Ideas Changing Healthcare Delivery

Healthcare in the U.S. is an industry that’s ripe for innovation. From a convoluted insurance system to a complicated chain of care to a lack of price transparency, many factors combine to create a healthcare system that’s slow, expensive, inefficient, and difficult to navigate.

But some companies are fast at work addressing the many pain points of patient care. Whether they’re small startups or large companies we already know, there are plenty of businesses out there working to make a difference in the healthcare space. Below, we’ve rounded up six ideas that are changing how healthcare is delivered today.

Uber Health

Every year, 3.6 million Americans miss doctor appointments due to a lack of reliable transportation, contributing to a high rate of no-shows, reaching as much as 30 percent nationwide. At the beginning of March, troubled ride-share company Uber announced the launch of Uber Health, a new initiative that partners with healthcare organizations to provide reliable transportation to patients in need. Here’s how it works: a coordinator schedules the Uber ride on behalf of the patient, and the patient communicates with the driver via text or call to facilitate the logistics.

The HIPAA-compliant system helps reduce appointment cancellations and saves the healthcare organizations money (as compared to using taxis or other transportation options). “Uber has helped us drastically reduce appointment cancellations. It’s great to be able to quickly request a ride with so that in-need patients can make an appointment they’d otherwise miss,” said Pete Celano, Director of Consumer Health Initiatives at MedStar Health, in the release announcing the nationwide launch of Uber Health.

Zocdoc Insurance Checker

Insurance is notoriously cryptic and confusing, and health insurance is even more difficult to decipher than other kinds of policies. How do you know what your health insurance will cover and what it won’t? Can you be 100 percent certain that a new doctor is in your network? To answer these questions, the online medical scheduling platform Zocdoc launched their Insurance Checker at the very end of last year. Patients take a picture of their insurance card, then Zocdoc extracts the important data and determines whether or not a doctor is in-network under the patient’s plan. This makes it easier for the patient to schedule visits and cuts down on surprise out-of-network charges.

Nomad Health

Have you ever been sick, only to discover that the earliest available appointment at your primary care physician’s office is in two weeks? Instead of waiting, you can call up a doctor, speak to one within a few minutes, and get a diagnosis and even a prescription, all without leaving the comfort of your home. While telemedicine has been around in some form or fashion for years (early leader Teladoc was founded in 2002), startups have recently jumped into the telemedicine space, hoping to provide a new twist on the concept of a virtual doctor visit.

The startup Nomad Health seeks to combine this telemedicine idea with the gig economy, allowing doctors to contract for virtual freelance via videoconferencing appointments. The service also includes postings for full-time positions, as well as travel nurse positions. Like employees in other industries, medical professionals are seeking more flexible and remote work schedules, and Nomad Health hopes to seamlessly connect them with these very opportunities while providing convenient video appointments for patients.

Osso VR

For decades, cadaver dissections have been the primary way of training surgical residents. But a host of new companies are using virtual reality (VR) technology to train future healthcare providers in a variety of situations. Osso VR, a startup that closed $2 million in funding last year, uses realistic simulations to teach orthopedic surgeons new techniques. Unlike cadavers, which often can only be used once, surgeons can practice VR simulations over and over again until they achieve proficiency.

Not only does VR make it cheaper to train surgeons, it also means that patients are being operated on by more experienced residents who have performed dozens of simulations (rather than just a handful). “In med school, they say ‘see one [surgery], do one, teach one’…but the truth is you need to do 50 to 100 cases for proficiency,” Justin Barad, Osso VR CEO and Founder, told Forbes.

Google’s Launchpad Studios

Google’s new Launchpad Studios program matches machine learning startups with Silicon Valley experts — and the inaugural class of seven startups all focus on addressing healthcare and biotech problems using artificial intelligence. American and international startups Augmedix, Cytovale, Nanowear, Owkin, Portal Telemedicina, Byteflies, and BrainQ joined the effort.

Each startup seeks to use machine learning in a slightly different context; for example, BrainQ identifies brain wave patterns in patients after neurological disorders to help aid in treatment, while Nanowear uses nanosensors in smart textiles to gather patient data and improve diagnostics. Google plans to establish other tracks for Launchpad Studios, but the fact that the company chose healthcare and biotech to be the first one indicates that Google is prioritizing healthcare innovation.

Forward

The year is 2030. You check in at your doctor’s office, and before you enter an exam room, you get a full body scan, and its data is fed to an AI algorithm that can spot patterns that might indicate health problems. By the time you make it to the exam room, your doctor has your data queued up, ready to review it with you and compare it to your genetic testing results. Before you leave, you’re given a wearable that will continuously relay health data back to your provider.

Sound futuristic? This process is already happening at Forward, a new kind of doctor’s office that has locations in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Not every doctor’s appointment can be done virtually through telemedicine, and Forward wants to make sure that when you do go to visit your doctor in person, the experience is seamless and digitally integrated.

The Future of Health

These concepts are just a sampling of the many new startups and innovations in the healthcare space. The future of healthcare is bright, primarily because these thinkers are funneling their efforts into problem-solving solutions that make the healthcare system smarter, more user-friendly and more well-connected.