A patient with a thyroid condition decided to participate in a clinical trial. His endocrinologist, however, told him to make sure his thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels don't dip below a specified level. When his levels dropped, he alerted the clinical trial staff – and they said not to worry, as the levels were still in line with other participants. But, the patient's wife was not satisfied. She called the endocrinologist – who, in turn, contacted the clinical trial clinicians and explained to them why this particular patient needed to stay within the specified TSH ranges. Subsequently, the patient's medication was adjusted to levels that were safe for him. However, if the wife had not intervened, the initial lack of information sharing, communication, and coordination could have resulted in dire consequences for the patient.
Such scenarios shine a light on the need for connected health – technology-enabled care solutions that facilitate communication among patients, providers and caregivers. The good news is the healthcare industry is ready to turn the promise associated with connected health into a reality. Drew Schiller, Chief Technology Officer at Validic, outlines the potential and the challenges that lie ahead.
To start, the health industry is on the precipice of a future where:
Remote monitoring will become the rule, not the exception. Patients will no longer have to physically go to healthcare facilities to see their care providers. Instead, their health status can be monitored via connected devices with sensors and applications, and they could receive provider services through remote platforms. Because physicians will have access to real-time health data, patients will not need to visit their physicians to undergo a battery of tests and measurements. For example, they can receive annual physicals from home while participating in a video chat with physicians.
Caregivers will have access to metrics and vitals critical to patient outcomes. With the continuing increased sophistication of devices able to collect a variety of health information, providers will have access to more meaningful patient data. For example, with connected devices that monitor blood pressure, providers will be able to review levels at regular intervals. The physician can then analyze the data to view daily levels or overtime trends to determine if a particular medication is having the intended effect on a patient's condition. The physician would also be able to determine if he or she needs to intervene before a negative health event occurs.
Organizations will not only track individuals but also population health. For example, when using connected asthma inhalers that deliver GPS coordinates along with dosage information, public health practitioners can tie spikes or drops in inhaler use to various environmental conditions. As a result, they can determine trends, potentially making improvements for entire populations of asthma sufferers.
To fully realize all of this promise, the industry needs to first overcome a variety of challenges including:
Legislative hurdles. Currently, physicians and other caregivers are not allowed to deliver telemedicine services "across" state lines. Legislation enabling providers to legally provide remote services to patients who reside in different states needs to pass to make remote care a more viable alternative.
Provider Adoption. While the steady stream of device-generated data has proven to be valuable, clinicians need to work with this information. Therefore, data needs to fit seamlessly into physician workflow in a manner that not only makes the data accessible but also actionable.
Interoperability. Devices must connect in a meaningful way. With interoperability, data can seamlessly flow across the entire care continuum. As such, healthcare can happen at the "point of the patient," and outside of the traditional face-to-face or clinical setting. This will allow patients to continually receive the services that will optimize their clinical care and wellness.
The focus of connected health initiatives needs to remain on the end-goal. Healthcare leaders should never lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is to improve the care experience, enhance outcomes and reduce costs.