The Promise of Digital Health in REAL Healthcare Reform

BrianMackBy Brian Mack, Manager of Marketing and Communications at Great Lakes Health Connect
Twitter: @GLHC_HIE
Twitter: @BFMack

Way back in 1994, Management Thought Leader Jim Collins, and Stanford Professor Jerry Porras wrote a book about how to build sustainable businesses called Built to Last. In it, Collins and Porras advised their readers of several characteristics that successful organizations share in common. One of those tenets was to embrace the “genius of the AND”.

“Builders of greatness reject the “Tyranny of the OR” and embrace the “Genius of the AND.” Build your company so that it preserves a passionately held core ideology and simultaneously stimulates progress in everything but that ideology. Preserve the core and stimulate progress. A truly visionary company embraces both ends of a continuum: continuity and change, conservatism and progressiveness, stability and revolution, predictability and chaos, heritage and renewal, fundamentals and craziness. And, and, and.” – Jim Collins & Jerry Poras, Built to Last, 1994

The term “Digital Health” has become a catch-all to describe a whole range of new technologies that have been created in the healthcare space in recent years. Mobile Health, Telehealth, Wearable Tech, Electronic Health Records, Health Information Exchange, Big Data, Blue Button, Personal Genomics, and many more fall under the digital health umbrella. Each one is jockeying for position as the Great White Hope of American Healthcare Reform. (As an aside, I find it ironic that growth in health technology skyrocketed because it was recognized as a means of breaking down the silos that had long divided the health care delivery system. Yet, the varied health technologies referenced above have essentially been developed in their own silos!) The HIT blogosphere is jammed daily with observations, criticisms, and predictions on which technologies will ultimately win (or lose) the health tech arms race. Isn’t that entirely beside the point?!?

There is value in “embracing the genius of the AND” for digital health innovators who are competing for finite venture capital dollars, brand “mindshare”, and market adoption. Rather than positioning health technology solutions as competitors, it’s logical to seek out opportunities for seamless integration across the spectrum of technologies AND into the healthcare delivery system.

Here’s an example of seamless integration across health technologies: In August 2016, Apple acquired a 3 year old personal health data startup called Gliimpse. Gliimpse takes a complicated clinical health record, combines it with patient-reported health and fitness tracking data from various sources, and presents it in a user-friendly format and language that is understandable and valuable for both patients and their doctors. In a nutshell, Gliimpse allows anyone to securely and seamlessly aggregate, manage, and share personal health information with people they trust.

This is significant for three reasons. First, the fact that Apple, the most recognized consumer brand in the world, acquired Gliimpse emphasizes the importance of intentionally engaging patients as active participants in their own healthcare. Second, it acknowledges that to be successful, solutions must be simple and easy for patients to use. Third, it highlights the value of integrated health technology for bridging the communications gap between patients and providers. As with so many issues surrounding the ready access and sharing of electronic health records, the Gliimpse acquisition demonstrates that the potential is real, and that the obstacles inhibiting this kind of interactivity are NOT fundamentally technical ones.

Integration of technologies into the health care delivery system is not just a business priority; it’s a crucial necessity if we are to achieve the holy grail of a fully engaged patient population. Research suggests that just 5%-10% of the U.S. population actively use digital tools for tracking their health (Joe Kvedar, The Internet of Healthy Things, 2015; pg. 188). If we want to truly transform the healthcare system, we need to motivate the other 90% to get in the game! To be successful in attracting that other 90%, we will need to elevate today’s health technology to a level that is ubiquitous. For patients, that means making tracking activities of daily living as routine as tying their shoes. For providers it requires integrated systems that create a seamless patchwork of experiential data that informs the process of care delivery.

Getting to broad adoption is of course way easier said than done, and the challenges are significant. Most obviously, no two people’s daily routines are the same, making the prospect of creating a single universal solution not just challenging, but impossible. There are competitive and proprietary factors to take into account, to say nothing of the regulatory, security, and privacy issues involved. We know that the last thing that doctors need is MORE [unqualified and unstructured] data. So how do we collect, aggregate, and filter this information in a way that is actionable for patient care? Those are just the logistical details. There is also the challenge of patient education and sustained engagement. All of these issues are complex and take time to work through, but none are insurmountable.

At the risk of being overly idealistic, I would suggest that this is where “the genius of the AND” comes into play. The core ideology that unites everyone involved in healthcare technology is a desire to positively impact the quality and outcomes of care. So let’s collectively preserve that core value while simultaneously stimulating progress. Embracing the AND frees us to find paths to collaboration without fear of “losing” to the competition. Embracing the AND affords the opportunity to imagine intuitive solutions that engage patients and fit elegantly into provider workflows. Let’s tear down the silos that separate digital health solutions and use that combined intelligence to realize the promise of REAL healthcare reform!

Post Script – At the further risk of sounding contradictorily self-serving, I would suggest that health information exchange providers are uniquely positioned to collect this data from disparate digital platforms, aggregate, filter, parse, and redistribute it wherever and whenever it needs to go! – BFM

This article was originally published on Great Lakes Health Connect and is republished here with permission.