March 2, 2017

From HIMSS17 to the ER: The State of Healthcare Technology

There’s a certain irony, isn’t there, when you leave the world’s largest healthcare IT conference optimistic about advances in the field, only to find yourself in the local ER a few hours later, facing the brutal realities of where healthcare technology really is and how far we have to go.

I spent last week at the HIMSS conference with 40,000 other people who are deeply passionate about healthcare technology, thinking about how recent advances in healthcare technology can benefit the clients we serve at 3Pillar Global. Everyone’s HIMSS experience is different due to the size and breadth of the offerings at the conference, but I think anyone who attended would tell you there was a significant focus on patient engagement, customer experience, mobile and interoperability.

When “Real Life Applications of Technology” Get Too Real

Clearly I still had technology on the brain as I entered the ER on a busy Friday night. Every encounter I had reminded me of something we had focused on at the conference, from the moment I walked in the door to the moment I got home 8 hours later.

I watched a patient doubled over in pain at the admission desk trying to provide his basic information to the admissions clerk. She seemed totally unfazed by the fact that he looked like he was about to pass out and/or vomit all over her desk, as she nonchalantly asked for his name, address, emergency contact, etc. And all I could think was “this has blockchain written all over it.” I attended the Blockchain-focused seminar on Wednesday and while most attendees conceptually understood how Blockchain could solve problems related to identity, trust, and interoperability, it quickly became apparent that most agree there’s no real “owner” to bring the solution to the table.

Wait Times Aren’t Just For Amusement Parks

Back to the ER. We had no idea where we were in the queue and were increasingly frustrated as the minutes ticked by. I’ve chuckled a bit to myself when driving up I-95 N in Virginia between Richmond and DC, where there is a billboard noting the local ER wait time. Friday night, I would have given anything to know how much longer I needed to wait and where I was in the queue. A little data visualization here would have been nice.

We’d been in the ER for almost four hours by the time someone came by to “complete your registration.” Again, Blockchain, customer experience, and mobile came to mind.

The one bright moment of the night was when were told that any of the doctors in the medical practice within the hospital needed for follow up care would be able to easily access the patient’s records. Ah … interoperability?? Yeah – the bar was low at that point, but I’ll take it.

We walked out late into the night with a stack of papers, including written prescriptions that needed to be filled right away at a 24-hour pharmacy. Except that pharmacy didn’t have one of the medications. Nor did 5 other 24-hour pharmacies within a 10 mile radius of my house. Isn’t there an app for that?? (Ok, ok, I get why pharmacies aren’t advertising which narcotics they have in stock, but still, there’s a solution out there somewhere).

Despite my less than optimal experience Friday night, I did see some things at HIMSS that give me hope about where the industry is headed in the next couple of years:

  • The patient experience is beginning to get its proper due.  Abbie Barber of Aetna had a great talk during Wednesday’s Blockchain seminar about Aetna’s next generation approach to authentication, with the desire for a simple, integrated user experience as a major driver for the authentication approach. Yep, when I only use a tool once a year, of course I’m going to have to re-set my password every time I use it. I was happy to see a deeply technical guy put UX at the top of his list.
  • Telehealth is gaining traction and cutting costs.  One of my favorite education sessions was from the City of Houston Fire and EMS, illustrating how the implementation of a Telehealth solution for paramedics had significantly reduced the number of patients transported by ambulance. In situations where the paramedic was unsure on whether to take the patient to the ER, an MD was engaged via the Telehealth device and in many cases it was determined that the patient didn’t require a visit to the ER, or if they did, they could often be transported by cab rather than the much more expensive ambulance ride.
  • Patient data is available – let’s help them figure out what to do with it.  Another of my favorite education sessions had a focus on patient data. Most patients now have access to a patient portal with their primary care physician, but for all the complaints about lack of access to data, most don’t use it. I also heard an interesting debate about how soon you should share data with patients. What if the patient has been diagnosed with a devastating disease? Do you let them see their medical information before a medical professional has an opportunity to talk to them? Like many aspects of healthcare, the technology is there, but now we have to give serious consideration to process, policy and procedure.
  • Wearables are becoming a valuable tool in managing health.  While they are losing traction in the fitness market, the opportunity for wearables in the near future is to help provide patient-generated data to organizations managing population health. They’ve gone beyond a fad for corporate wellness programs and are becoming a reliable tool that can provide proactive health monitoring including heart rate. And surprisingly, some of them are gorgeous – I’d love to get my hands on a Withings watch!

I look forward to sharing my learnings with our clients and building great solutions in 2017!