There are few truths in the world, but here is one that is certain: Technology is moving at astonishing speed and in every arena is changing our lives in ways never dreamed possible.
Nowhere is this truer than in healthcare, which has always been on the forefront of technological advancements as it pertains to the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
New tools are replacing the stethoscope in the doctor's office, new ultrasounds can now uncover dense breast tissues in women, and advances in proton therapy have changed the outlook for cancer patients.
Today, consumer-friendly technology is helping to shape the future of healthcare in many truly revolutionary ways - from how providers, health plans and consumers interact to how consumers themselves become more empowered and engaged in their own health status and healthcare decision making.
Such advancements are helping to significantly lessen the fragmentation that for too-long has existed in healthcare and, for the first time, is truly making all participants "partners" in the care and well-being of individuals.
In this environment, it should come as no surprise that well-established technology companies such as Amazon, Google and Apple are finding wondrous business opportunities in healthcare; and creative start-ups are changing the discussion on the potential of 21st century healthcare.
Amazon, for example, has introduced Amazon Web Services (AWS), which offers cloud and web services for providers, insurers, pharmaceutical companies and genomics labs. This web service helps to render MRI scans in 10 minutes or less (instead of the industry standard of 90 minutes) and has made the 1000 Genomes Project available for free so researchers can more easily access it. Last summer Amazon met with the FDA; and while the content of the meeting was not disclosed, some speculate that Amazon's next healthcare move could be fulfilling prescriptions and creating wearable healthcare devices.
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Not to be outdone, in 2014 Google Venture (the venture capital arm of Google) invested 36% in healthcare companies, up from 9% just a year earlier. Google also launched its own new company, Calico, focused on combating aging and disease and just last year partnered with AbbVie and will reportedly invest up to $1.5 billion in a new research center devoted to cancer and neurodegeneration. Google is also working with UT Southwestern to create compounds that "guard against Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and depression." A corporate restructuring at Google this past summer was seen by some as a way for the company to focus more on Calico and their other health efforts.
At Apple the most recent iPhone Operating System (iOS9) introduced HealthKit and ResearchKit, both aimed at developers interested in creating health-related apps. HealthKit allows for a user's health data to be input, stored in a central location on the iPhone and then shared with other healthcare apps. Apple has already announced a partnership with Epic Systems to integrate their patients' electronic health records with HealthKit.
ResearchKit works with data from HealthKit as well as other platforms to allow researchers and developers to more easily conduct studies and analyses. In addition, healthcare executives have high hopes that one day the Apple Watch will be able to track the effects of medication on the human body - information that could help a pharmaceutical company quantify the effects of its products beyond the laboratory.
While Amazon, Google and Apple are the Goliaths, there are a lot of Davids out there as well.
Under the "Uber for Doctors" category, a number of apps are emerging where doctors make house calls on demand. For $99 "Heal" promises a doctor at your house in 20-60 minutes to treat moderate ailments, give flu shots, etc. They expect to be in 17 major cities by next year. "Pager," currently in New York City only, completes full physicals at home.
Telemedicine start-up abounds as well, including iCouch, which connects therapists with patients either online or in person. More than 600 therapists are already part of the website, each setting their own price and hours. HealthTap provides unlimited online 24/7 video chat with doctors for $99 a month with an average response time of two minutes. These physicians can write prescriptions and mail drugs directly to a patient's house, though they are running into some roadblocks from a number of state regulators.
Perhaps nowhere is the technological explosion more pronounced than when it comes to recent developments in electronic health records (EHR):
Specifically designed to work well on mobile devices and tablets, dfchrono was voted the #1 EHR for iPad three years in a row. Most recently the company created an Apple Watch app so doctors can view information such as prescription requests straight from the watch.
PokitDok raised $34 million in August of this year, and its APIs (Application-Programming Interfaces) help healthcare systems communicate with each other in order to meet demand of increase in EHR use.
This past July the United States Department of Defense awarded a $4.3 billion contract to Leidos Holdings and Cerner Corp. to modernize its health records. The project is expected to take seven years and involve records from 9.6 million military personnel.
The takeaway from all of this activity should be clear to any company striving to compete in today's healthcare environment. Our world is being revolutionized by the hour; and technology is the undeniable driver toward enhancing the customer experience, improving care, ending care fragmentation and allowing businesses to achieve sound financial results. Those companies willing to embrace these changes and smartly leverage the technological boom will find themselves on the winning side of the equation.
Tom Peterson is president and chief executive officer at Clear Vision Information Systems, one of the healthcare industry's leading technology companies in helping physicians and Medicare Advantage plans improve their own profitability as well as the health and quality of life of their patients.