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Wednesday Feb 04, 2015

Health Tech Developers Could Use Physician Input

I always wanted to attend the Consumer Electronics Show, not only to see what all the hype was about but also to find out if there were innovative ideas that could be used to strengthen primary care and help family physicians better meet our patients' needs. Finding ways to improve patient access, care coordination and engagement while achieving the Triple Aim -- better care, better outcomes and lower cost -- may require new approaches and an open mind, and I wanted to see if any technologies were on the horizon as part of those solutions.

I couldn't have picked a better year to finally make it to Las Vegas. The number of biotech and health companies participating(www.ibtimes.com) in the recent international show increased by more than 30 percent this year.

Photo Courtesy the Consumer Electronics Show

Attendees look at smart watches on display at the Consumer Electronics Show. More than 50 wearable health and wellness products were on exhibit last month at the show in Las Vegas.

More than 150,000 people trekked to the Las Vegas Convention Center to see the latest high-tech gadgets. Exhibitors covered more than 2 million square feet with the latest innovations in automobiles, televisions, headphones and more. I didn't have time to see everything, so I focused on the exhibits that had the potential to improve health and wellness.

What did I see?

How about bike pedals that can track a cyclist's speed, distance, elevation, calories burned(mashable.com) and record his or her route?

Or a patch that can monitor a patient's temperature(www.fiercemedicaldevices.com) for 24 hours, tracks changes and send alerts to physicians?

Could your patients benefit from a product that tracks calories through a wrist sensor(www.shape.com) and monitors heart rate, blood flow and fluid levels?

Although there were plenty of innovative ideas on display, the biggest trend was wearable devices. There were dozens of companies hoping to be the next Fitbit. In fact, more than 50 wearable products(venturebeat.com) were being promoted at the show.

Why the glut? Roughly 19 million wearable products were sold last year, and that number is expected to more than triple within the next three years. But as I made the rounds and talked to these companies on the show floor, I had to question how much some of these companies knew about U.S. health care. And were they making a product because it fit a need or simply because they had developed a cool, new technology?

For example, I talked to representatives of the company promoting the temperature monitor. That product is being marketed primarily as a pediatric device. When I asked them, "What about geriatric patients?" they admitted they hadn't considered that possibility.

I talked with multiple foreign developers who were each marketing more than a half dozen gadgets that can monitor a user's temperature, blood pressure, blood sugar, etc., and they each had their own proprietary platform that feeds data into one place. A patient could easily use such a system to send his or her information to a physician. The problem is that a consumer would have to buy all these gadgets from the same vendor because the competing systems aren't interoperable. Sound familiar?

The disconnect between developers and health care was one of the reasons I was glad to see family medicine prominently featured at the show. A panel of physicians representing the Health is Primary(www.healthisprimary.org) campaign hosted a panel discussion that urged increased collaboration among technology companies, physicians and consumers during a presentation about health technology.

According to an AAFP survey(fmahealth.org) released at the event, more than 50 percent of family physicians recommend health and wellness apps to their patients, and more than 40 percent use apps at the point of care.

So what's the problem? Roughly 40 percent of respondents indicated they had reservations about using apps because of questions regarding the evidence or proven effectiveness of these products. With more collaboration that could change because we could help developers make better products to help our patients.

That isn't to say product developers don't have good ideas. I talked with one exhibitor who has developed a new app that helps consumers create appropriate diets for patients with diabetes. The app assists with menu planning, recipes and grocery lists. The developer hopes to make the app free to patients by working with stores and manufacturers to distribute relevant coupons through the app.

Again, I wondered if this idea could go further. Could it, say, help patients with heart disease adhere to a low-sodium diet? The developer hadn't thought of that possibility.

In the short time since the show ended, I've already exchanged emails with a few developers who realize family physicians can help improve their products, making them more beneficial to a wider audience.

I also realized that not only could family physicians help product manufacturers, we could bring our own ideas forward. For example, I know a family physician in Kentucky who has developed an app that allows practices to offer after-hours visits via a smartphone. With ever improving technology, not every visit needs to be face to face.

Tech developers could certainly benefit from our experience. Too often, physicians have been the victims of well-intended technology that was developed without sufficient physician input. Technology should be a tool, not a burden.

Do you have ideas for new or improved tools that could benefit our patients and our practices?

Wanda Filer, M.D., M.B.A., is president-elect of the AAFP.

Posted at 03:09PM Feb 04, 2015 by Wanda Filer, M.D.

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