The Chief Technology Officer for the U.S. Health and Human Services Agency has good news and bad when it comes to the Ebola crisis. According to Bryan Sivak, “This is not a disease that’s spreading out of control.” But the bad news is that the technology tools used by his agency and others trying to combat the deadly epidemic need a lot of improvement.
Sivak’s remarks came this week at the two-day HealthBeat Conference in San Francisco, California. Organized and run by VentureBeat, the gathering attracted doctors, hospital administrators, venture capitalists, and budding entrepreneurs who were generally in agreement on two primary conclusions: the medical industry is woefully behind in using new tech tools available today and consumers will force them to fix that problem quickly.
As governments and health agencies struggle to respond to the Ebola crisis, there have been barriers to communicating vital information. According to Sivak, the processes and tools typically used by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to combat a global outbreak “have not kept up with the modern era.”
He cited the CDC’s cumbersome posting of “pdf” based documents on their website as an example, since this requires a great deal of human intervention to find, download, and use. “It’s not the most efficient way to notify the universe,” the agency officer told HealthBeat attendees.
Instead, Sivak is pushing for the CDC to adopt content syndication tools which will automate the flow of information from one source to critical groups more quickly.
Beyond the problems encountered by the medical community as it fights the spread of deadly disease, doctors are also dealing with a serious lag in the adoption and acceptance of new technologies. “The rest of the world operates like Facebook, but the medical industry operates like it was thirty years ago,” said Greg Biggers, CEO of Genomera.
An important area for consumers that is pushing faster tech adoption in the medical world involves wearable computing. There has been an explosion of fitness and body monitoring devices in the past year, but not all of the data being generated is truly meaningful to physicians. “Now we’ve got data all over the place, but a lot of it is just noise,” said Martin Entwistle of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
Entwistle pointed out that rather than counting how many steps a patient may be walking, more meaningful data for doctors would involve regular readings on blood pressure and glucose levels.
Another example of patient-driven change can be found in Twine Health, which was created to provide closer interaction between patients and “health coaches” who monitor key indicators for chronic health disease care. The new site was founded by John Moore, a former doctor who quit his practice because he said he was “embarrassed” over the weak follow-up he was able to provide his patients after diagnosis.
The company provides a cloud-based software platform for collaborative care. Twine has formed a partnership with Rushika Fernandopulle, a doctor and co-founder of Iora Health. As Fernandopulle told the gathering, “At seven minutes a visit, with no real tools, we’re kidding ourselves if we think we can properly manage patients that way.”
Some companies are also building new tools to encourage telemedicine. Earlier this week, Practice Fusion, which offers free electronic health records to doctors, announced new software that lets physicians access patient files using an iPad or Android-based tablet. The company also acquired Ringadoc last year, a telemedicine service to match patients with doctors who have open hours on their schedules.
Many speakers at the HealthBeat conference this week were quick to remind the audience that the ultimate goal in their profession is to provide the best healthcare possible and save lives. The global Ebola scare has reinforced this message in profound ways and technology can play a vital role if used correctly.
As Jordan Shlain, founder of HealthLoop, told the gathering, “Medicine is a people business in need of technology, not a technology in need of people.” Now the challenge is get the medical community to embrace that change.