Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wireless Devices Transforming Healthcare

Mobile and wireless devices are rapidly advancing to connect patients and data, resulting in tremendous changes in our healthcare system. The Capitol Hill “Steering Committee on Telehealth and Healthcare Informatics” brought together experts from Congress, government, and industry on July 28th to present their newest ideas and thoughts on the wireless revolution.

Honorary Co-Chair Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said, “Healthcare issues are foremost on the minds of the American people since the country is faced with healthcare costs going up every year. If we make the right improvements to the system, then it is possible to achieve a saving of one trillion without decreasing the quality of healthcare. However, if we reduce costs by just cutting benefits, we will achieve savings but the methodology is deeply wrong and deeply lazy.”

He stressed that the healthcare system needs to operate with a robust health information infrastructure, aggressively support quality improvements, address prevention methodologies, and reward physicians for providing good outcomes. If we accomplish these goals, then our country will be able to make monumental improvements in the system.

According to H. Stephen Lieber, CAE, President, & HIMSS CEO, “A key strategic area for HIMSS involves mobile and wireless applications since this is a dominant form of delivery and is truly changing the culture. The role for HIMSS is to help doctor’s offices, patients, and policy makers not only understand how mobile and wireless applications will develop, but also to help our society understand how all aspects of health IT can truly be effective in providing healthcare.”

Adam Darkins, MD, Chief, Consultant for Care Coordination at the Department of Veterans Affairs, reports that the VA’s responsibilities to provide healthcare for veterans is enormous and today, the agency provides healthcare for 5.3 million veterans, operates 153 medical centers, and 900 community-based clinics.

He explained that the veteran population is aging with much of the veteran population over 80 years old which means that many aging veterans will be living with chronic conditions. This new generation of aging veterans will need to rely on mHealth to obtain care in the home.

Presently, the VA’s use of telehealth technology has helped 55,400 veterans receive care in their own home. By putting monitoring devices in the home, patients with medical problems such high blood pressure can have their blood pressure reviewed and helped by the healthcare staff at a distance facility.

Darkins explained how the VA’s “National Center for PTSD” and DOD’s “National Center for Telehealth and Technology” were instrumental in developing the “Mobile App PTSD Coach”. The App is helping veterans manage their symptoms that commonly occur after trauma.

The App provides reliable information on PTSD and treatments, has tools to help screen and track symptoms, is convenient and easy-to-use, and provides direct links to receive help. The VA reports that the mobile App has been so successful that 16,000 veterans have already downloaded the App.

To help coordinate activities in the mHealth field, Yael Harris, PhD, Director of Office of HIT & Quality at HRSA was instrumental in establishing the “Federal mHealth Collaborative. The Collaborative enables agencies to share information, provide a mHealth learning environment, be able to keep current on recent federal activities in mHealth, and opens new opportunities for further collaborative efforts. The listserv currently has 90 members represented by many HHS entities and other Federal agencies.

As Harris explained, one of the federal government’s goals is to promote “Text4Baby” which today is the largest mHealth program in the U.S. It is a free text messaging service in both English and Spanish to provide pregnant women and new moms with up-to-date information. A new initiative based on “Text4Baby” concept called “Text4Kids Health” is now in place to help patents take good care of their children and is specifically directed to parents that have children from 1 to 5 years old. Also, a new program “Text2Quit is available to help people quit smoking.

Harris is excited about the new workgroup FedTel that was formed to examine federal telehealth activities across federal agencies and so far, the attendance has been overwhelming. The workgroup is looking closely at what telehealth can offer through both wired and wireless to provide care. Specifically, FedTel is going make an inventory of telehealth Federal activities, collaborate across agencies, and identify key barriers that prevent providing healthcare for everyone/everywhere.

Several companies came to the Capitol Hill Steering Committee event to showcase new mobile and wireless technologies :

• Bruce Brandes, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer for Air Strip Technologies, reports that “Air Strip OB”, a new healthcare app gives physicians the ability to monitor vital waveform data of their patients, including fetal heartbeat and maternal contraction patterns, in virtual real-time on the physician’s smartphone or tablet. Air Strip OB is now in use by a fast-growing number of obstetricians at labor and delivery units across the country

• Masatake Eto, Managing Executive Officer, Deputy Chief Director of Sales at A&D Medical, gave a clear picture of how devastating the March 11 earthquake was for Japan with many lives lost and many still missing as a result of the disaster. The earthquake resulted in the population experiencing enormous stress resulting in a rise in blood pressure. At this time, A&D Medical was able to supply blood pressure technology with real-time communications capabilities to take blood pressure readings on individuals in the disaster area and forward the data to healthcare professionals elsewhere

• Andy Sallee, Director of Business Development for MedApps Mobile Health Monitoring, demonstrated how “HealthPAL” an effective tool is used to provide information on the go to help manage patient populations afflicted with chronic diseases. The device is small about the size of a cell phone, lightweight, and able to automatically collect and transmit health readings to healthcare professionals

• Steffan Johnson Senior Consumerism Lead for Highmark Inc. explained how the “Health@Hand iPhone” provides Highmark members with access to health and wellness features at their fingertips. The system is equipped to provide information on participating Highmark medical facilities and provider locations and also provides interactive health information so that members can look up information on illnesses, symptoms, and medical conditions

The lunch briefing and mini-demonstration was sponsored by HIMSS, American Telemedicine Association, and Continua Health Alliance. Honorary Co-Chairs Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) , Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Thune (R-SD) Sheldon Whitehouse D-RI) and Tom Udall (D-NM) and their staff provided logistical support.

The “Capitol Hill HIT Showcase: Patient Safety and Quality Issues” on September 12th will be conducted as part of “National HIT Week” September 12-16, 2011. Over 350 to 400 attendees are expected to attend from government, industry, and academia throughout the day.

For more information, email asimmons@e-healthpolicy.org or neal@e-healthpolicy.org.