By Bill Thomson, vice president of marketing and product manager, DC BLOX.
In South Carolina, many residents are plagued by the unavailability of high-speed broadband connections. Despite 91.5% of the state’s residents having the ability to access wired connection speeds of up to 25 Mbps, 344,000 do not have a broadband connection that supports these speeds, while another 171,000 lack access completely.
To further this issue, many South Carolina residents have no choice when it comes to their broadband provider. In the state, 116 broadband providers operate yet more than half a million South Carolinians have only one option available, limiting competitive choices. The problem is much worse when you consider that even 25 Mbps, the speed that the FCC considers to be broadband, is too slow to support many of today’s applications.
Without reliable high-speed connectivity, healthcare facilities are unable to transport large diagnostic images, students are unable to access their education online, and businesses are unable to leverage cloud services for best-in-class solutions. These gaps place rural communities at a distinct disadvantage compared to metropolitan and suburban communities. As the public health crisis continues to evolve, these obstacles are amplified as remote work remains the norm for many companies and virtual learning is required for many students.
While access to the internet for educational and business purposes is essential, perhaps even more important is meeting the healthcare needs of rural communities. Across the country, there have been 138 closures of rural hospitals since 2010, including four in South Carolina. These hospitals play an essential role in the community, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, to deliver necessary medical services. As it becomes more difficult for rural Americans to access healthcare locally, many will turn to telehealth for routine care. Without access to high-speed broadband services, it makes it nearly impossible to access much-needed healthcare services.
Additionally, as the public health crisis continues to bring uncertainty to communities across the United States, a portion of South Carolina schools continue to operate under either fully remote or hybrid classroom environments. If students at these schools are unable to access course materials because they don’t have the same broadband access as their urban and suburban counterparts, they are at a severe disadvantage.
What is needed to address the challenges of rural communities is digital infrastructure. High-speed fiber-optic networks need to be laid within the rural communities, and then those local networks need to be connected to the Internet through local peering points and to other service providers to gain access to a variety of digital services.
Companies like DC BLOX are currently building digital infrastructure in regions that have been traditionally underserved. Cities like Greenville South Carolina and Birmingham Alabama are benefitting from state-of-the-art data centers and network exchanges that facilitate data connectivity for entities in their areas. For rural communities nearby, electric cooperatives are often taking on the responsibility to deploy broadband services. With robust digital infrastructure in the vicinity, cooperatives can partner with these providers to accelerate their broadband projects and improve the reliability of their services.
Through these initiatives, as well as the potential infrastructure investments from the federal government, bringing broadband access to underserved communities is accelerating. People will be able to access needed medical care and educational resources, and businesses will be able to grow. In the end, everyone benefits when these communities become connected and the digital divide is closed.
By Mike Haynes, medical advisor and freelance writer.
Doctors answering service may seem like an outdated service, yet they are just as important today as they were years back when they had just begun. The feel of a personal caregiver anytime, cannot be easily replaced by chat-bots or virtual robotic voices. Consider the following benefits and the answer will be clear.
Round the clock attention
All have different schedules and would feel comfortable calling at different times. This service offers the flexibility that fits into the patient’s schedule. This way, the doctor is always there for them, when the patients really need.
Better patient communication
Patients may think of a question after the visit to the doctor and the answering service gives them the opportunity to have it answered quickly; for example, if they forget the dosage for a particular drug.
When a patient knows they can get some kind of attention even without an appointment, they are more satisfied with the service being offered. Patients will feel and realize they are a priority and can speak to a real person who understands their concerns and gives more than generic responses.
Guest post by Bryce Cannon, Vice President – Client Services, Modea.
Healthcare and Wearable Tech: How the Fitbit Can Improve the Patient Experience
As of 2015, 1 in 6 U.S. adults owns a smartwatch or fitness tracker. This means that there are 40MM people in this country counting steps, checking their heart rate, and tracking other data. The wearables market already represents a multi-billion dollar industry.
If this doesn’t seem like a big enough wakeup call to take wearable tech seriously, then what if I told you that soon we’re likely to be wearing smart clothing that measures breathing rate and muscle effort? Or that having small microchips embedded in your nail polish will allow you to track your movement and virtually type?
Fitness bands are just the beginning of human beings living a more measured life. And with the strong connection between wearable tech and healthcare, providers would be foolish to ignore this trend.
So how can you ensure that you don’t miss the wearable boat? In this article I’ll share two examples of hospitals that have already found a way to tap into the growing trend of wearables, as well as three benefits that you can realize for your own practice if you do the same.
Cedars-Sinai – Using Fitbit to Help Cancer Patients
Dr. Arvind Shinde, a faculty physician in the departments of Supportive Care Medicine and Hematology and Oncology at the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, knows that activity level has a strong correlation to whether or not an oncology patient can physically make it through chemotherapy. To quote Dr. Shinde, “People who are spending more time in bed usually get harmed by the treatment we give, even if the cancer is responsive to the treatment.”
The problem is that the typical method for assessing patient activity level is simply to ask them and accept their word. But thanks to wearable tech, Dr. Shinde saw an opportunity to use empirical data.
So he rolled out a test in January of this year to enroll 30 adult cancer patients who have access to an internet-connected smartphone. Dr. Shinde provided each one with a Fitbit Charge HR device so that he can monitor stats like heart rate and miles walked. The goal is to assess patient activity levels over a fixed period of time, and then correlate that data with patients’ outcomes from cancer treatment.
According to Dr. Shinde: “The next step will be to do a larger study across multiple tumor types and follow people longitudinally for a much longer period of time. We can see how they do as they progress through their treatments, follow their ups and downs. We’ll be able to get changes over baseline and create a better algorithm for this assessment.” (To read more about Dr. Shinde’s trial, read this article.)
Through Dr Shinde’s work, Cedars-Sinai has found a way to leverage wearable tech to improve quality of life and provide better patient outcomes.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Rolls Out ImagineCare to Improve Sustainable Health
Built on 2 years of research surveying best practices across areas from hospitality to high tech, Dartmouth-Hithcock has rolled out a new platform (ImagineCare) allowing patients the ability to tap into a full network of health alerts and personalized support, as well as to voluntarily supply connected health data to their care providers. It’s particularly focused on those managing chronic diseases. The platform incorporates use of the Microsoft Band activity tracker to measure and collect personal health data. In their own words:
“Patient health data is captured, monitored and analyzed in a sophisticated command center using powerful applications developed in partnership with Microsoft. ImagineCare combines patient health data with other relevant data sets, for example from national health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and applies care pathways, which have been developed using the latest clinical evidence and best practices…”
This video helps bring it to life:
By bringing together wearable tech, personalized support, and a new ImagineCare app, Dartmouth-Hitchcock is providing a holistic care platform that helps patients to manage chronic health issues and better provide self care.
Integrating with Connected Health Data
As a healthcare provider there are many ways to get started integrating with wearable data. As a first step, I’d recommend exploring Apple HealthKit. In 2014 Apple released the “Health” app for iOS. Now over 75MM iPhone users in the U.S. can track statistics like activity and heart rate, just by carrying their phone around in their pocket.
Later that year, Apple released “HealthKit”, an accompanying developer platform that allows software developers to hook their own apps into collected data on Health via API.
HealthKit allows other applications to access data collected by Health (with the user's permission of course). For example, a nutrition application can inform a fitness application how many calories a user consumes in a given day.
Building into HealthKit would allow your practice to integrate personally connected data from ~100MM adults in the U.S. market.
In addition, you can also consider tapping into data from other devices with developer platforms, such as the Fitbit or the Microsoft Band.
If terms like “integrate” or “API” freak you out, then consider working with a digital partner to help you navigate the wearable device trend and build out a strategy.
Regardless of how you decide to get started, here are three benefits that you can realize as a provider by tapping into data from wearables.
1 – Achieve Better Patient Outcomes
Can healthcare practices that encourage the use of wearables or (better yet) integrate with wearable tech to provide more holistic care actually provide a better patient experience? The answer lies within how using wearable tech can change patient engagement. Here’s a quote from a recent HiMSS study:
“Even without universal agreement on ‘one’ definition of patient engagement, two truths are emerging: a patient’s greater engagement in healthcare contributes to improved health outcomes, and information technologies can support engagement.”
Healthcare is being consumerized, with people taking an increasingly active role in their own care experience. By providing patients with the option to easily share personal health data, providers are not only helping doctors to be more informed, they’re increasing the value of connected data for the patient. And doing so increases patient engagement and empowerment.
Getting doctors more informed and patients more engaged will lead to better patient outcomes.
2 – Become More Efficient
Hospitals are under constant pressure to scale back and do more with less. Coupling mobile technology with wearable tech, physicians can connect live with a patient via video conference and scan data from activity trackers like the Apple Watch or Fitbit. They can even source data from “smart” household items like a scale or thermometer. All of this can be done without the patient or doctor having to leave their homes.
Sound like the future? It is, but it’s also the present. Companies like AmWell already provide in-home, fully digital care via web and mobile apps. The service also integrates with wearable data to ensure that doctors are making the best possible diagnosis. With a typical price point of $49 per “visit”, AmWell has created a more efficient model for delivering urgent and therapeutic care.
3 – Brand Perception
We may not always think of brand when it comes to providing healthcare. But as patients become increasingly empowered to make their own care choices, their perception of your brand could become a deciding factor in whether they choose you as a provider (or not). Paul H. Keckley, PhD, Executive Director of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions said the following:
“Consumers have more skin in the game now than ever before. They’re able to compare prices and outcomes for simple medical treatments. And they can access their own medical records to compare their signs, symptoms, risk factors, and comorbidities to clinical algorithms and better understand where to get the appropriate care, and how much that care will cost.”
As consumers continue to be more empowered and many healthcare services continue to commoditize, being seen as a progressive brand and an early adopter of using connected health data from sources like Apple HealthKit can position your practice as the go-to place for the best, most progressive care.
More and more U.S. adults are measuring personal health statistics. This trend is not going away. Rather, it’s accelerating the consumerization of healthcare. Tapping into wearable data to improve the patient experience will help position your practice for the future.
Got thoughts or questions about how to take your practice into the future? Send me an email I’d love to hear from you.