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The Future of Digital Health – Views from Inside the Industry

“Healthcare is a truly antiquated industry,” says Dr. Cam Patterson, Chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).  Regarding the rise of Amazon as a digital corporation and huge game changer in the market, “if we don’t think this is going to happen in healthcare, you’re living in the 1920s – because it is,” says Dr. Curtis Lowery, Director of the UAMS Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. Dr. Eric Christianson with Fairview Health Services in Minneapolis points to technology as bridging this gap for healthcare. “It seems to me to be a very common sense, logical step,” he says. “The technology is out there. There are still things that need to be worked on, but as it’s being developed and being refined…”

Digital health (i.e. telehealth) is the manifestation of that type of technology.  Access to care. Long distance care. Mobile health.  These are all things in play right now that are changing the landscape of the health industry. Speaking to some of our digital health colleagues in the field, the future looks bright. Mitch Kitrel with BrightMD agrees with forecast mentioned above.  “As these trends take hold in healthcare,” says Mitch, “patient expectations for fast, convenient, and easy tools to take care of themselves, solutions that enable rather than hinder providers’ abilities to deliver high-quality care without making their already heavy burden worse and health systems need to keep up with patient desires are driving huge shifts in the industry. They are also creating an environment ripe for disruption.”

Matt McCormick with Forefront Telecare tells us that his organization is able to provide a variety of psychiatry services not offered elsewhere because of digital technology.  The same goes for Larry Steinberg with Cloud DX.

Clint Hennen with GDT says access to care is key. “Everyone should have access to quality healthcare regardless of economics, location or any other limiting factors.  Digital healthcare allows access to affordable quality healthcare.” Colin McDaniel with Howard Technology Solutions echoes Hennen’s sentiment, yet is more succinct: “Access to medical care and health education services is just a videoconference call away.” Any time. Any place. Any reason. The landscape is changing. Rapidly.  “Care today can take place anywhere,” says Stephanie Siemens with InTouch Health. “Patients are requesting ways to virtually access healthcare services on-the-go without sacrificing quality or care continuity.”

Though the industry is ready and already working towards this technology based system, Kirk Gillis with Constant Horizon warns “healthcare systems will either adopt or be disrupted into irrelevance by the same consumer-innovation organizations that have transformed many other industries.” However, this is well known in the industry as Lauren Neuvel explains, “In the current ‘wild west’ stage of telemedicine, significant gaps exist in both best practices and the regulatory environment. The future of quality, safety, compliance, and outcomes measurement is in telemedicine accreditation, which can effect real change and tangible value for an organization’s telemedicine program.”

“Ultimately,” says Ryan Kelly with the Mississippi Telehealth Association, “we expect telehealth to not be something ‘different’ than in-person healthcare, but simply an alternative modality to delivering care depending on the factors available to the provider that require digital access vs. in-person access.”

Timbuk3 was optimistic about their future as they sang:

I’m doing all right, getting good grades
The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades

That same optimism can be said for telehealth (read the following as if you were singing Timbuk3):

Technology is here, the industry awaits
Access to care… is just a videoconference away

Final thoughts…

Dr. Chris Gibbons: “In my view, the largest threat to the widespread advancement of telehealth lies in thinking too small. If we allow ourselves to believe that the value of telehealth is only to connect patients, doctors and hospitals, we will reap tangible benefits that will be substantial, but we may fail to achieve the transformational possibilities that broadband can offer our Nation.”