4 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Innovate in the Healthcare Space
Get doctors spending more time with patients and less time updating electronic health records.
Have you been to your doctor recently? You've probably noticed how technology is, in some ways, making doctors’ jobs more difficult. They're staring at a screen for a significant portion of your visit. Maybe you sense their frustration as they search for the pull-down menu needed to record your diagnosis or select your prescription. And by looking over their shoulder, you’re catapulted back to 1999 with text-heavy, template-driven screen after screen.
Poor technology is contributing to burnout in doctors. More than 40 percent of hospital executives are either indifferent or dissatisfied with their current electronic health record (EHR) system, according to a 2014 survey. Even worse, doctors now spend an average of only eight minutes per patient, or 12 percent of their total time -- and this is down from 20 percent in the late 1980s.
So how can you innovate in health care to increase the amount of time doctors get to spend with their patients, generate system-wide access to patient medical records and create new, meaningful avenues for engagement -- outside of the 15-minute doctor’s visit?
1. Think outside the box.
Many more care teams are using EHRs these days because of a multi-billion-dollar infusion of capital from the U.S. government, as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) of 2009 (also known as the stimulus bill). The ARRA did its job of subsidizing EHR purchases by hospitals and physicians. However, it also stymied health IT innovation by entrenching a small group of EHR vendors, because EHR software is extremely complicated and takes a long time to develop, test and bring to market.
"OK," you say, "I'll develop an add-on product to make EHRs easier to use." You can try, but health IT is a long way from "plug and play." That's partly because EHR vendors have some vested interest in keeping their systems closed, but also because the industry lags in developing usable interoperability standards for its very complex information flow. To get a sense of the size of the job, check out the Connectathon, an annual event where healthcare software vendors convene to try to get their products to work together smoothly.
2. Look to other industries for inspiration.
You'll have to look outside of healthcare, where IT generally lags 10 or 20 years behind other industries. Look to banking and investing, for instance. Modern banks have taken themselves almost entirely out of their customers' relationships with their money. While banks still have their traditional internal systems, consumers also have access to their finances on their phones and tablets, and banks compete to offer the best app. Or look at Betterment, which allows investors to skip a human financial advisor and have their investments handled by advanced algorithms.
3. Innovate beyond “sick care."
Insurance companies and government programs such as Medicare are shifting their focus to population health. In other words, they're working to figure out the big picture of why people get sick and how to keep them well.
Our healthcare system is moving, very slowly, away from a model of sick care (just treating immediate problems, with nods to preventive measures such as vaccinations, mammograms and colonoscopies) and toward genuine health care (putting the person in the middle of their care and proactively promoting health and long-term wellness). We’re encouraged to keep our weight down, get regular exercise, anticipate potential problems and control our chronic conditions to avoid crises and hospital visits.
4. Tap into the “quantified self.”
Increasingly, we as patients are the source of important information about our health. Various new technologies such as Fitbit trackers, Wi-Fi-enabled scales and apps allow us to more easily track our health insights (including diet, exercise and heart rate). Innovation in health IT could broaden the EHR information we maintain to include everything we do that affects our health -- not just what happens in the hospital, the doctor's office or the lab. For example, when we combine behavioral health and socioeconomic data with clinical and claims data, we can create personalized care plans that extend beyond the canned information that many care teams prescribe.
While there are many possibilities for healthcare innovation, they all share the same general goal: keeping people as healthy as possible while maximizing time, data and engagement outside the four walls of the hospital. By focusing on these key areas of concern, you’re likely to not only improve doctors’ job satisfaction, but also the entire care experience.
Marc Willard has a 20-year track record of innovation in solving complex technology industry challenges. In 2003, he founded Certify Data Systems and later sold the company to Humana in November 2012. As president of Transcend Insights, a wholly owned subsidiary of Humana, Willard has achieved his vision of helping patients, physicians and healthcare systems nationwide enhance healthcare and improve outcomes.