Healthcare: Emerging Trends and Innovation Gaps

It’s no secret that long ER/primary care wait times, fragmented patient documentation/protocol, and the increasing complexity of medical knowledge all contribute to systemic deficiencies in care. We’ve identified the problems, but how do we leverage principles of user-centered design to come up with appropriate, technology-agnostic, optimal solutions?

3 trends are emerging: a shift toward qualitative and personalized care/recovery, interoperability (from silos to democratized, integrated care information), and leveraging big data from mHealth/sensor technology.

1. Personalized care

Philip Chen, Seamless Mobile Health COO says that to be successful in the health tech sector, you must embrace innovation, understand the problem, and provide a multidisciplinary approach. Seamless provides a solution to patients that may not fully understand post-surgical care, experience information overload, or may be disinclined to seek care for symptoms until they worsen dramatically and have to be re-admitted.

The solution involves custom care instructions, reminders, and symptom trackers that provide warning messages if the patient worsens. In addition to developers and designers, the team includes medical practitioners. The medical expert vantage point is essential to ensure the application provides adequate and accurate care instructions.

It will be interesting to see if the data aggregated from personalized care and recovery apps will show improved outcome, lower re-admission rates, and a greater sense of patient engagement. This would be the true litmus test for the merit of custom-tailored patient monitoring in the digital age.

2. Interoperability

How do we make the healthcare system a better service? The elusive unicorn solution seems to be a universal, easy to use repository of editable, customizable, shareable information. This is implemented on a small scale in research and academic institutions right now.

Not only is this a reality for clinics, patients, and physicians affiliated with these institutions, but there was enough talk from enough people at this conference about interoperable, scalable, and integrated digital systems in healthcare to boost my confidence that it will shortly become a nation-wide reality.

Imagine if your child’s pediatric surgeon didn’t have to check 5 different systems operating independently on 5 different repositories of information before coming to speak to you and your child! Imagine if going from walk in clinic, to family doctor, to specialist, to ER, didn’t involve telling your story several different times!

This isn’t just a utopian future, it’s happening right now, with tools like OSCAR EMR (electronic medical record). OSCAR is a suite of open source tools developed at McMaster University that provides an integrated approach to healthcare information.

The tool includes full billing capabilities, chronic disease management tools, prescription modules, appointment scheduling, and comprehensive patient files. Primary care providers can share relevant information with specialists and other practitioners in the patient’s care circle while keeping other information completely private. Patients can get their own accounts and integrate all their health apps into one dashboard that contains their comprehensive medical history.

Scaling this kind of integrated software up and making it ubiquitous nation-wide would be the crowning achievement of a modern essential system.

The benefit for patients is clear, but practitioners and management would benefit too by ensuring quality care took place, by monitoring program effectiveness/outcomes, democratized access to knowledge databases, and ability to monitor patient progress remotely.

3. Big data (and sensors in the consumer health tech market)

Smartphones are here and now, the future belongs to wearable technology. This message has been sent loud and clear, especially when it comes to consumer health apps and fitness trackers.

However, we need to ensure that we don’t conflate sensor technology data or progress with medical expertise. Brands like Nike+ and FitBit have agendas that do not necessarily overlap with factors of overall health, improved life expectancy, or reduction in chronic illness.

The sensors available to the consumer market are not yet sophisticated enough to test real predictors of overall health (blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels). These tests require invasive procedures (e.g. blood-work) and the only individuals that have access to this kind of monitoring right now are diabetics.

In order to create a culture of true preventive care, we need to make wearable technology that provides useful data, monitoring real indicators of wellbeing. Until then, these high tech sensors will keep spewing out meaningless heaps of data – the truth is, it doesn’t matter if you beat your best friend’s sprint time.