How Tablets Are Putting Healthcare Power In Patients’ Hands

Tablets are empowering patients with the tools and information they need to experience healthcare on their own terms.

Portability, versatility and increasing computer performance of tablets are bringing completely new experiences, changing how we enjoy entertainment, shop, gather information, communicate and blend our digital and real worlds. This series by PSFK and Intel explores how improving tablet capabilities are changing the status quo in many aspects of our lives.

While medical and technology experts debate how to drive down escalating costs and whether or not wearable technology will be the next big thing in health and wellness, tablet computers are playing a bigger role in the evolution of healthcare.

Laptops, tablets and smartphones are common sights inside the doctor’s office, but it’s the widespread use of these mobile devices by people, in their homes and while on the go in their everyday lives, that is also pulling health and wellness services into the future.

“Tying health to technologies, both the software and hardware, can help patients track and manage their health, and ultimately live a healthier life,” said Halle Tecco, co-founder and CEO of Rock Health, which invests in and incubates startups designing new tools and services aimed at improving healthcare outcomes and tackling America’s estimated $2 trillion annual healthcare expenses.

While it may require more of a revolution of epic proportion akin to space race for the 21st century, healing healthcare systems around the world hinges on many things. One thing in particular are secure, real-time collaboration technologies aimed at creating faster, cheaper and more personalized care, according to Mark Blatt, worldwide medical director at Intel.

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“The biggest fundamental problem in healthcare is it’s too expensive,” said Blatt, who was a doctor for 15 years in the U.S. before moving into the technology industry.

“Quality and access to care is important, but cost is the biggest challenge.”

The world is experiencing an aging population, which many see as a major burden bearing down on healthcare services in the years ahead. A number of diseases are approaching epidemic status, such as diabetes or pre-diabetes, which is one of the biggest health issues in the U.S., a country that by the end of the decade will experience a shortage of more than 90,000 doctors, according to a recent PSFK Future of Health report.

While tablets are among the growing number of computing devices feeding the so-called mHealth trend, they are increasingly a positive disruptor in the healthcare industry as they help people to more actively manage their own health and wellness.

Their easy-to-use touchscreens, responsiveness, portability, long battery life, front and back cameras, and ability to access a plethora of apps makes tablets accessible to young and older generations.

Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Alliance, an acute care hospital that serves residents in North Fort Worth and the Mid-Cities installed a tablet with a mechanical arm inside rooms for patients to use during their stay. DHealthcare Daily reported that because of their time with the tablet, patients became familiar with how to use the tablet and applications. When patients left the hospital, their apps and medical record were immediately accessible from home.

Doctors at UPMC Bedford Memorial Hospital in Everett, Phil., recently uses Windows Surface tablets and found that the tablets gave them more time for face-to-face patient interaction because they could get the right data at the right time.

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Healthcare Collaboration with Tablets

Blatt said there are plenty of devices out there, from specialized computers to laptops, tablets and smartphones, but there’s still not a trusted, reliable way for caregivers and patients to use them and collaborate.

“By collaborating, we can lower costs dramatically, but we need to change how we work,” said Blatt, since things are moving from a fee for service to a fixed payment for healthcare.

This will require doctors and patients to have mobile devices that have enough computing performance to multi-task between a variety of secure mobile apps that access medical records, lab results, ultrasounds and X-rays, often in real-time while a patient eagerly await a prognosis.

This quick collaborative workflow, as Blatt calls it, allows the focus of care to remain on human interaction rather than typing or tapping feverishly on a device.

Tablets that can multitask, capture and present multimedia, including photos, data graphics, video, audio, are helping care providers and patients interact face to face and remotely.

Telemedicine, the term used to describe how doctors can provide live care remotely via phone or an Internet connection, is not new, but it has become more critical to cost conscious healthcare providers.

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In recent years, the California division of Kaiser Permanente, a U.S. network of hospitals, invested heavily in digital records, according to Blatt, and now handles nearly 50% of their “visits” with patients virtually, through voice and video conference calls, where health records are accessed and shared in real time.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Teladoc Inc., MDLIVE Inc. and American Well hosted nearly a half a million doctor-patient interactions via the Internet last year, more than doubling the number of calls from 2011, according to the American Telemedicine Association.

Telemedicine is not dependent upon tablets, yet the popularity of tablets could significantly increase our reliance on telemedicine.

“It has been widely recognized that telemedicine presents the single-biggest change to healthcare delivery, until recently, policy has gotten in the way of progress,” wrote Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, in a recent article for Forbes.

Moorhead said things are about to change in a big way after last month’s ruling by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), an organization for the individual state medical licensure boards and creates policies to unify standards of care nationally.

For the first time, FSMB acknowledged that telemedicine consultations between physician and patient were equivalent to in-person consultations as long as the interaction was done via videoconference.

“This is huge,” Moorhead concluded. “Video now equals a doctor’s visit, which I think will catapult telemedicine to the next level.”

Accessing care online digitally is not just more convenient and less expensive, but is actually safer, said Blatt.

“As the tools become more robust that’s going to become a more dynamic experience and [physicians] are going to be able to get into complexities they couldn’t before.”

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Personalized Health and Wellness

For years people have taken a more do-it-yourself approach to healthcare, consulting ‘Dr. Google’ to diagnosis symptoms or tapping into patient forums to get more informed about health concerns.

More recently people are using their personal technologies to track health often on a daily and even minute-by-minute basis. Mobile devices also allow people to reference their data when reaching out to verified medical services on their own terms.

“It’s really about how do you make it easy for people to access care, so mobile health becomes incredibly important, because you can do it on the go from wherever you are,” said Martha Wofford, vice president at Aetna, which last year created Carepass, a hub that can connect with other healthcare apps via an open API (application programming interface).

These personal health apps are something that Eric Dishman, general manager of Intel’s Health & Life Sciences Group, sees as a major shift to more personalized care. With the increasingly affordability of sequencing our genome — not just once, but regularly — coupled with the power of consumer technologies that track health and the growing field of telehealth could lead to truly personalized care.

“For decades healthcare has played off of clinical Randomized Controlled Trials,” Dishman said ahead of his talk at the 2014 HIMMS event.

“This method has saved many lives, but now with genomics, smartphones and social tools we can customize care down to individuals. We are moving toward this personal healthcare paradigm, where we are treating you based on you not on just guesswork of a randomized clinical trial done 20 years ago.”

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Personal Health and Wellness Tablet Apps

Without a central access point for patients to view and analyze their health data, they’re forced to try and draw their own conclusions from piecemeal sources of information. One device seeking to transcend this issue is the HomeLink, from Alere, which is a wireless home hub for receiving, storing, and transmitting patient-generated healthcare data. The tablet-sized touch screen can capture data from an owner’s digital scale, fitness trackers, pulse oximeters, blood glucose monitors, or just about any other wearable health device. Data is gathered with a USB direct connection, offering a seamless way to store and access necessary data, and even send it to doctors for professional analysis.

In many cases, patients simply need some consistent guidance to help them implement positive lifestyle changes. Wellfra.me is an app that delivers dynamically generated protocals to patients in the form of a personalized daily to-do list. Designed by Trichan Panch, the founder of My Care Apps, the app serves as a risk calculation engine that lets patients pinpoint behaviors that they want to change and use aggregated experiences from similar patients to see the potential outcome of that change (i.e. the impact of quitting smoking on heart attack risk, or the impact of weight loss on blood pressure reduction). The app also provides real-time calculations of the percentage of risk reduced, potential financial costs and benefits, and the ability to share achievements through social media channels.

In the same way that personal technologies can house relevant identification information and streamline travel experiences, people are reconsidering how these same devices can create a better end-to-end experience for patients. Medlio is a digital health insurance platform that streamline visits to the doctor by creating a virtual health card to minimize hassle. The app connects healthcare consumers with current insurance information, allowing patients to connect doctors and insurance companies all on one simple communication platform. Users can additionally monitor expected copays, share insurance information, and get estimates without any of the back and forth that exists in the current system.

The doctor-patient relationship cannot evolve solely by way of consumer technology. For medical professionals catering to the other end of that user experience, VitalHub Chart is an innovative “Patient Information Management” system that aggregates data collected from multiple “Electronic Medical Record” databases. As a result, healthcare professionals can use existing legacy systems to view and manage all their patient data in a single, unified, touch-friendly interface, and deliver better care.

Even as new technologies open the door to breakthrough medical treatments, these advances don’t always translate into patient-friendly experiences out of the box. But repackaged with an easy to use interface for touchscreen tablets, alongside a set of compelling game mechanics to keep users motivated, the results can be transformative.

UltimEyes is an app designed by neuroscientists that teaches the brain how to make better use of the eyes. Originally developed to help baseball players see better, the app is now available for anyone who has an interested in gaining superhuman sight. To test the app, researchers recruited 19 players from the University of California, Riverside baseball team to use the app for 30 25-minute intervals. Afterwards, players were able to see farther by an average of 31 percent, while nine of them even managed to attain vision of 20/7.5 – which means they could see clearly at 20 feet what normal people could only see at 7.5 feet.

A wide swath of applications are being delivered through tablets and empowering patients to take control of their medical care at various points of the medical journey. Through setting up a framework for us to manage and monitor our own care, streamlining medical processes, or providing us with tools we need to correct our own imbalances, these devices are helping to shift the narrative for patients around feeling in control of their total healthcare experience.

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