How "Digital" Health is Impacting Telehealth

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How "Digital" Health is Impacting Telehealth

Dylan Chadwick

A scant two summers ago, I started researching the impending arrival of telemedicine. Perhaps I was smitten by the prospect of seeing actual crossover between legitimate medical practice and telecommunications technology. The telehealth industry would rise to ubiquity within medicine. It'd find and construct that hybrid new-fangled technology, taking all the best bits of mobile phones, internet chats, skype, video conferencing, downloadable mobile apps and every other pocket sized whatzit capable of finding Wi-Fi. Then, it'd use that creation it to actually practice medicine. It seemed only a bit novel then. Keep in mind, this was still an iOS 5 world and "Facetime" was just barely an app. Now, technological capabilities reinvent themselves every 6 months leaving last month's techblog buzzword a dusty, dated and irrelevant relic of an arcane time. We're even closer now than we were then.


Since that time of initial research, "telehealth" has quickly become a broad umbrella term for other uniqe deliveries of healthcare. Myriad subsets, ideological cousins perhaps, of telehealth have popped onto my radar. Words like "mHealth" (colloquial for "mobile health") and "Digital Health" now dangle the prospect of redefining the entire office-visit paradigm to mere touchscreen taps. Digital health may finally be catching on.


Digital Health Hangups

In its initial stages, digital health ran a slow start. Ubiquitous tech titans like Microsoft and Google (Healthvault and Google Health respectively) both released their versions of digital health databases dead-set on rewriting the healthcare script. These companies aimed to create a platform for patients (or consumers, depending on which side of the coin you fall) to gather, submit and analyze their own health and vitals information, storing them in a cloud for easy use by patients and doctors alike. However, neither platform gained significant traction in the grand scheme, causing many health experts to posit their own theories for their failure.


Issues like data security, encryption and the (ever justified) fear of breaches and other data intrusions will plague the adoption and integration of all things HealthIT. As the idea of paper health charts and office visits conducted in brick-and-mortar exam rooms are reduced to coded 1's, 0's and wifi connections, unknown obstacles often come to life.


Other hesitations include the (lack of) interoperability between the various digital health systems. When it comes to functionality, no amount of bells and tech-whistles can account for a failure to interact with existing or forthcoming technology. This often creates a period of tension within the first stages of new adoption. Manufacturers and developers must often work out the "bugs" they didn't quite see in the whiteboard stages, while consumers wait for an update.


The Sharp Edge of the Sword: Data

Ultimately though? The advantages of a solid digital health system far outweigh any perceived disadvantages. Mobile technology really needs no advocates at this point. It allows users to connect, store, share and download information from any location, not restricting them to an office or practice network. Not only does this maximize a physician's capabilities in coordinating, disseminating and sharing information with patients and specialists quickly, it allows them true efficiency in an era when performance evaluations and reimbursements demand it. This is nothing to say of the inherent "kink" it helps smooth out, gasoline and travel time it saves, and waiting rooms it can "de-crowd."


Digital health data itself is becoming consistently more valuable to healthcare technology manufacturers Per Jesse Slate Shantz, MD MBA it's the "most valuable commodity" currently in healthcare. (Digital Health May No Longer be a Slow Sell). Any digital health program which can take in multiple health perspectives and recordings, streamlining them all into one place, will certainly make a welcome friend to physicians. This is to say nothing of the technology "wearables" industry rolling them out.


As health data becomes more widely recognized and appreciated, more and more tech companies are throwing their collective hat into the ring to carve a stake into the growing technology.


- Google Fit: First announced at the Google I/O conference in June of 2014, the program is a single set of API's that interpret and store data from multiple fitness apps and device manufacturers (Nike, HTC, LG, Withings, Motorola, Noom, Runtastic, RunKeeper and far). Users can use the application on their mobile phone or tablet, and personally select how, and with whom their fitness data is shared. They can delete this information at will.


-Apple Health is a prospective application slated for iOS 8 branding itself as a "personal and central data collection point." It will allow for third-party integration accessories and other wearable tech gadgets, directly monitoring and analyzing a user's biochemical and physiological status for both medical and fitness application. It will utilize patented Apple display dashboards to show the user's fitness data. Users and physicians can monitor their calories burned, blood sugar and cholesterol, and other vital health stats. Most importantly, users can "create, from within the application or lock screen, an emergency card with medicinal details." This provides healthcare professionals the option of reading these details for ease at the point-of-care in case of an emergency. It can also cross-communicate with other Mac or iOS based health programs on other devices, and (with the user's permission) be shown to other users on said devices.


-Samsung "Simband": A consumer-centric "biohealth ecosystem" that utilizes a sensor-loaded wristwatch and a cloud-based platform to store health data obtained by the wearable device. Simband is constructed with a platform called SAMI (Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interaction), that can act as a sort of "intermediary" that collects health data and patterns in the cloud, and then analyzes said data. It's specifically designed to process basic algorithms and amass data from a variety of different actions, which (assuming the wearer uses it correctly) can be analyzed over a long period of time by a competent medical professional.


When Digital Health and Telehealth Collide

Health apps which gather your vitals and store them in one place is one thing. But "digital" and "tele" health can also intermingle with each other. Two other apps are gunning for a complete redesign of the traditional doctor's visit experience, and they utilize both digital data and the "tele" functions of mobile health for that fresh take on a classic idea.



Perhaps taking a page from the many "subscription service" media options out there (like Netflix and Hulu), Healthtap (originally launched in 2010) started as a simple social network platform in which users could direct their patients to a network of 6000 participating doctors. It has since evolved with a "prime" service that includes video and chat conferencing with a participating physician. It also provides ongoing patient support in the form of checklists, medical notifications and personalized tips. "The period after the doctor's visit is the most important part of administering care." This service is available for iPhone and Android at a cost of $99, with $10 additional for every other family member included on the plan.



Created by the co-founder of the on-demand-Taxi service Uber, Pager allows patients to complete short forms and connect them to a local doctor. The cost of a teleconference is $50, and if an actual house call is made (as in, the physician comes to your place of residence) the cost is $300.


Both apps provide convenient access to quality healthcare, which lends itself innumerable advantages to patients and physicians alike. Digital health is fully underway, and it's re-designing the playbook for patients and physicians and the tech industry around it.




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