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Can Digital Health Make Both Patients and Doctors Happier?

Digital health holds huge potential but physicians often share concerns that a deluge of data will make their work more burdensome. Is it possible for digital health to help both patients and their physicians?

Marie Thibault

March 11, 2016

3 Min Read
Can Digital Health Make Both Patients and Doctors Happier?

Digital health holds huge potential but physicians often share concerns that a deluge of data will make their work more burdensome. Is it possible for digital health to help both patients and their physicians?

Marie Thibault

Much has been made of the potential of connected devices, which could give doctors continuous data on their patients at all times. However, physicians have been known to pushback on this idea because so much data can overwhelm them. Physicians say they already have too much to do. They won't use a new technology if it doesn't have proven gains or if it significantly adds to their workload.  

We know it's important to make patients feel cared for and to give physicians the ability to keep doing their jobs. That's why it's noteworthy when an entrepreneur says his company's offering can make patients feel more empathy from their physicians while also freeing up physician time.

Speaking at the Molecular Medicine TriConference on March 10 in San Francisco, Jordan Shlain, MD, a physician and founder of HealthLoop, said, "Engagement needs to be treated like any other disease, in my opinion, if you want to get good outcomes . . . Outcomes are going to equal incomes for doctors."

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HealthLoop offers physicians automated followup with their patients, so they can gauge their patients' recoveries, send reminders, answer frequently-asked questions, and offer valuable information about a disease or procedure. 

For Shlain, the inspiration for HealthLoop came from his experience with an elderly patient who had pneumonia. He told the audience in San Francisco that he gave this patient a prescription for an antibiotic prescription and urged her to call him if she wasn't feeling well. Several days later he received a call informing him that his patient was in the emergency room for respiratory distress and had almost died. He wondered why the patient hadn't called him. That led to an "Aha!" moment—"First, maybe I should have called her," he said—and that although a day when a patient is feeling about the same and not getting worse is manageable from the patient's viewpoint, the physician sees this as a negative trend and should have that knowledge.

After this experience, Shlain said that he decided in 2007 to start tracking all his patients through daily phone calls, asking them whether they were "same, better, or worse than yesterday." This gave him a trend line for each patient. With patients who were improving, he was able to call them less frequently and gradually ease them off the phone call followups. He said that one of his patients told him, "Dude, you should turn that into software." So HealthLoop was born.

This automated followup helps catch adverse events early, Shlain said. "We've caught blood clots, wound infections, all these really evil complications super early."

It seems that this approach works for the majority of patients too. According to statistics on HealthLoop's website, there are over 150,000 patient touch points monthly, 86% of patients say they are "Likely to Recommend," and readmissions were reduced by 25%. Shlain noted that the technology has reduced the number of incoming phone calls by 70% for doctors' offices.

The technology is working well for HealthLoop too. Shlain said that the company has raised $15 million and is about to raise more, and has had an offer for purchase by a device manufacturer. While the original business model involved charging each doctor a monthly fee, with the shift toward bundled payments, Shlain said they may eventually move to a per-patient business model instead. "Every doctor is at risk of any patient, if they fall off the tracks or something bad happens to them, [the doctors] get dinged," he said. 

Marie Thibault is the associate editor at MD+DI. Reach her at [email protected] and on Twitter @medtechmarie

[Image courtesy of FANTASISTA/FREEDIGITALPHOTOS.NET ]  

About the Author(s)

Marie Thibault

Marie Thibault is the managing editor for Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry and Qmed. Reach her at [email protected] and on Twitter @MedTechMarie.

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