The Obama stimulus package and health care bill signed earlier this year has shone a light on the need for technological advancements in the health care industry, but the money released pales compared to overall investment in this area.
This was the prevailing feeling on a cold December night in San Mateo at the Health Care Innovation Cafe. As Deborah Magid, IBM’s Director of Software Strategy, Venture Capital Group explained to the assembled crowd of technologists, startup entrepreneurs and health care professionals, the stimulus money really is a drop in the ocean compared to the $8 billion of equity poured into venture-backed healthcare companies.
So where exactly is this investment going? Deborah suggests that biopharm and medical devices dig deepest into the pot:
But this crowd is here to learn about the slice devoted to medical software and information services. She offers this model on the role IT can play in transforming health care:
For instance, if health practitioners have better access to data about a patient and an ailment, they can make better decisions about the best course of treatment. If a doctor can see data on how thousands (or even millions) of other patients have responded to a given treatment, this can help determine whether this is the best course of action.
This does involve the need to have health records available in an electronic standardized format (we're moving away from the era where doctors scrawled out paper notes and prescriptions which would be buried vast filing cabinets). Electronic medical records (EMRs) can follow a patient from provider to provider. Aside from impacts on deforestation, other benefits include greatly reducing the cost of duplicate care being provided. For instance if you can't recall the last time you had a TB vaccination, doctors may well prescribe you a fresh one, just to be on the safe side (as happened to me recently).
Pronoy Saha, VP, Marketing and Business for Pelesend Inc. covered other areas where IT can benefit health care, such as the development of patient portals. Currently these tend to be web-based, and allow patients to schedule appointments, order refills and request medical advice, all from the comfort of their own computer screen.
Pronoy runs one of the most successful Meetups covering the personal health technology. Popular sessions in the past have featured subjects such as the financial side of health care provision (eg. collection, management and distribution of insurance), doctors feelings towards healthcare, and telehealth: the provision of health care services across phone and mobile networks.
The emerging role of telecoms in healthcare
Pronoy showed this example:
In this case, one pediatric expert can service children hospitals across the country, all from the comfort of his own office. Beyond the standard audio/visual display of a teleconferencing system, this system also allows the transmission of vital signs data to help the doctor with the diagnosis.
The final speaker of the night, Sam Pejham, M.D., FAAP, Assistant Clinical Professor UCSF Medical School, provided an excellent example of how a popular device like the iPhone can be used in the treatment of asthma. Sam pointed out that readmissions for asthma patients after serious attacks can be significantly reduced if patients can be monitored remotely and the provision of drugs dispensed accordingly.
The AsthmaMD app allows patients (or family members) to easily and quickly log their asthma activity, their medications, causes of their asthma in the form of a diary. They can share the diary and a color graph chart of their asthma activities with their physicians, and these can be included in their medical records. Sam gives the example of this log can be emailed periodically to a hospital where a nurse can view the data in seconds and make the decision on whether the patient needs further attention.
The data from patients using the app is anonymized and aggregated to provide a wealth of information on asthma hotspots across the country, trends and the performance of medications in the treatment of asthma.
Where does IBM fit into the health care picture? Lennart Frantzell, our esteemed host and a health care technology expert within IBM, presented this view of IBM's play in this space:
To see a concrete example of how visualizations can help practicioners navigate a patient's electronic health record, see this demo out of the IBM lab in Zurich:
Given the importance of health care plays in each of our lives, it was well worth braving a formidable night to witness the transformative power of IT in this space. I look forward to the next Innovation Cafe!
Learn more about the San Mateo Innovation Center, including future events.