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Voice: The most natural user interface for healthcare

There’s so much promise, and such a natural fit for voice in healthcare that unlike electronic medical records, we should not have to mandate its use. If anything, right now we are being limited by the lack of HIPAA controls rather than end-user demand. If the sessions at the recent Voice Summit, which was focused broadly on voice tech, and the upcoming Voice of Healthcare and Voice Summit at Connected Health conferences are any indication, there are many natural use cases, and a lot of pent-up demand.

With so many concerns about documentation and screens getting between patients and physicians, and the ability to deliver empathy, and to rapidly learn from interactions using natural language processing, and artificial intelligence, voice seems a natural fit and unobtrusive interface that could leapfrog traditional interfaces.

The Healthcare track at Voice Summit showed some of this promise, but also pointed out that we are still early days. Many solutions are pilots or prototypes, and I had the distinct impression that some of today’s HIPAA workarounds would not stand up to a detailed audit. Despite Alexa’s sponsorship of the conference, Google’s strong presence, and both companies push into all things healthcare, both were mum on whether or when their consumer voice devices might be HIPAA compliant. Regardless, healthcare organizations and technology vendors alike are charging forward on new scenarios for healthcare, and you can see by the diversity that if even a few of these end up being the “killer app” it’s a big opportunity.

Patient Care

Rooming: Waiting for a physician to see you in an exam room is often a wasted opportunity. A voice interface in the clinic room, could help further pinpoint why a patient is having a visit or educate pre and post visit on medical issues. Or simply having a voice assistant capture the questions that a patient has during a visit might go a long way to improving the visit.

Inpatient stay: The combination of voice assistants, wifi, and tablets could completely replace expensive and proprietary systems for inpatient patient engagement. We’re already seeing use cases for anonymous interactions with voice devices to order food, check the time, or find out the time of the next physician visit.

Long-term care: Alzheimers and dementia care are cited as the poster child for the benefits of voice in long-term care facilities. Unlike human caregivers, voice assistants never get tired of answering the same questions repeatedly. There are so many times you don’t want Saturday Night Live to predict the future, but with this one they got it right.

Patient Engagement

If we define patient engagement as interactions outside the clinic, then the opportunities today fall into three main categories triage (or eventually diagnosis), education, and self-management.

Triage Skills: Today we see some basic triage skills from organizations like Mayo Clinic, and Boston Children’s Hospital where you can check some basic first aid, or ask common questions about children’s health. While there are approximately 1,000 healthcare skills, most likely there will be a few winners or “go-to” experiences here from leading healthcare organization or trusted publishers like WebMD. (Interestingly, the presenter from WebMD was one of the more skeptical on voice experiences for patients at the Voice Summit, possibly because of the complexity of the information they present through text, video, and images on the Web.)

Health Education: Chunking content into manageable bites is currently being touted as the best practice for education material through voice. However, this is an area where the interactivity that’s possible through voice will be necessary for stickiness. If you think about the best podcasts, they use different techniques to both engage you and also impart knowledge: interviewing, verbatim quotes, sound effects, interjections, and expository material. To get engaging and sticky health education content, publishers will have to think about how to test for knowledge, advance explanations, and interact with the end-users. Since we can only remember 5 things at a time, simply chunking content is not going to be enough to make the delivery of health education through voice stick.

Reminders and Interactive Health Tasks: As we’ve seen from our testing, where voice interfaces may have the most impact for patients is in helping them complete health tasks for example, in medication adherence, simple surveys, or check-ins and reminders of basic information. Given that the voice interface is a natural in the home, checking in with a voice assistance on when to take medication, or tracking meals is an easy way to engage with a care plan. As well, cloud-based interactive voice response systems could call patients with reminders and check-ins.

Clinical Notes

Conquering the pain of charting is possibly the closest term opportunity for voice in healthcare. With every increasing workloads, and the need to capture information digitally for both care and reimbursement, the EMR has been blamed for physician burnout and lack of job satisfaction. Microsoft recently partnered with UPMC to use their Cortana voice assistant to transcribe clinical notes during a patient/provider interaction. Others attacking this space include SayKara, Robin, and incumbent, Nuance Communications. With HIPAA compliance, it’s hard not to imagine Amazon and Google looking at it as well.

Hands-free lookup

Voice really shines as an interface when your hands are not free, like driving, dentistry, or when you need to keep your hands clean. Voice is a natural in settings where touching a screen or device can cause contamination or distraction. Simplifeye is tackling this in dentistry to improve charting, and lookup of x-rays, and we expect this to infiltrate all aspects of healthcare.

You may have seen a recent article on why Alexa is not ready for healthcare primetime. With all of these great examples it’s hard to believe it. It turns out that the criticisms in this article basically highlight the current limitations of voice overall (except for HIPAA compliance of course). However, some of the challenges of discovery, context, and navigation, are why we at Wellpepper believe in not just voice, but a “Voice And” future where voice is a key interface that is helped or helps others like screens or even augmented reality. Voice is powerful, “Voice And” will be even better.

Posted in: Behavior Change, chronic disease, HIPAA, patient engagement, Patient Satisfaction, patient-generated data, Voice

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Digital Transformation in Pharma: Digital Pharma West

Like the rest of the healthcare industry, the pharma industry is also grappling with lots of data, disconnects from end-users, and shifting to a digital-first experience while grappling with ongoing regulatory and privacy challenges. Actually it’s pretty much what every industry is grappling with, so the good news is that no one is getting left behind in this digital revolution.

In pharma though, the division between commercial and R&D creates both delays and lags in implementing new technology and the regulatory challenges cause specific issues in communication with both providers and patients.

Last week, I was invited to speak at Digital Pharma West about our work in voice-enabling care plans for people with Type 2 diabetes, and also how our participation in the Alexa Diabetes Challenge enabled us to engage with pharma. It was my first ‘pharma-only’ conference, so it was interesting to contrast with the provider and healthcare IT world.

If you think that there are a lot of constituents who care about digital health in provider organizations, pharma rivals that. For example, there was a discussion about the value of patient-facing digital tools in clinical trials. While everyone agreed there could be real value in both efficiencies of collecting data, and engaging patients and keeping them enrolled in trials, a couple of real barriers came up.

First the question of the impact of the digital tools on the trial. Would they create an intended impact on the outcomes, for example a placebo effect? Depending on how the “usual care condition” is delivered in a control group, it might not even be possible to use digital tools in both cohorts, which could definitely impact outcomes.

Another challenge with digital technology in randomized control trials is that technology and interfaces can change much faster than drug clinical trials. Considering that elapsed time between Phase 1 and Phase 3 trials can be years, also consider that the technology that accompanies the drug could change dramatically during that period. Even technology companies that are not “moving fast and breaking things” may do hundreds of updates in that period.

Another challenge is that technology may advance or come on the market after the initial IRB is approved, and while the technology may be a perfect fit for the study, principle investigators are hesitant to mess with study design after IRB approval.

Interestingly, while in the patient-provider world the number of channels of communication are increasing significantly with mobile, texting, web, and voice options, the number of touch points in pharma is decreasing. Pharma’s touchpoints with providers are decreasing 10% per year. While some may say that this is good due to past overreach, it does make it difficult to reach one of their constituents.

At the same time, regulations on approved content for both providers and patients means that when content has had regulatory approval, like what you might find in brochures, on websites, and in commercials, the easiest thing to do is reuse this content. However, new delivery channels like chatbots and voice don’t lend themselves well to static marketing or information content. The costs of developing new experiences may be high but the costs of delivering content that is not context or end-user aware can be even higher.

At the same time, these real-time interactive experiences create new risks and responsibilities for adverse event reporting for organizations. Interestingly, as we talk with pharma companies about delivering interactive content through the new Wellpepper Marketplace, these concerns surface, and yet at the same time, when we ask the difference between a patient calling a 1-800 line with a problem and texting with a problem there doesn’t seem to be a difference. The only possible difference is a potential increase in adverse event reporting due to ease of reporting, which could cause problems in the short term, but in the long term seems both inevitable and like a win. Many of the discussions and sessions at the conference were about social media listening programs for both patient and provider feedback, so there is definitely a desire to get and make sense of more information.

Like everyone in healthcare, digital pharma also seems to be at an inflection point, and creativity thinking about audiences, channels, and how to meet people where they are and when you need them is key.

Posted in: Adherence, Clinical Research, Data Protection, Health Regulations, Healthcare Disruption, Healthcare Policy, Healthcare Research, Healthcare Social Media, Healthcare Technology, HIPAA, M-health, Outcomes, pharma, Voice

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The Secrets of Strong CIO and CMIO Relationships

What’s the secret of a strong CIO and CMIO relationship? Many things including the ability to be adaptable, understand organizational priorities, and deadlines, but most importantly to align on shared goals and purpose.

These were some of the takeaways from the insights shared by CIOs and CMIOs of Confluence Health, and EvergreenHealth at the annual Washington State HIMSS Executive dinner. While the conversation was split between how to foster innovation, and how to manage the demands of an EMR rollout (including the resulting backlog of other IT requests), where the relationship really shone was in the implementation of tools for a shared purpose, in this case tracking and control of opioids to help curb the epidemic we’re seeing in this country.

In particular a project at EvergreenHealth to implement e-prescribing of controlled substances, showed the need for strong CMIO and CIO collaboration. The program is designed to decrease fraud and misuse of controlled substances, but it can also improve patient care. Since it involves both technology implementation and clinical guidelines it’s a perfect example of medical and technology collaboration. In Washington State, where we’re based, the Bree Collaborative also has recommended guidelines for prescribing opioids, that while optional are widely adopted across the state.

We’ve written about this problem before in pain management for total joint replacement. Sadly, an unintended consequence of the pain management question on the HCAHPS survey, is sometimes an overprescribing of prescription pain medication. According to one speaker at the event, 30mg of oxycontin over 7 days is enough to trigger an addiction, and yet often post-surgery up to 30 days of pills are prescribed. We talked to one patient (not a Wellpepper user) who reported taking all of her prescribed pain medication, not because she needed it but because it was prescribed. The first step to solving this problem is with the prescription, and EvergreenHealth’s e-prescription program, combined with locked cabinets in the operating room (the idea is that if you don’t need it immediately, you don’t actually need it), alerts on over prescribing, and programs to substitute suboxone, coupled with behavior health management can all help. As well behavior change happens with the physicians, and a powerful image was the story of a pharmacist who put a bag of unused opioid prescriptions on the table to show that even if they didn’t think so, some physicians may have been over-prescribing.

However there are ways to take it a step further: tracking what the patient actually took outside the clinic, which is why we include a pain medication usage task in many care plans. This activity asks patients some simple questions about their over-the-counter and prescribed pain medication usage, and alerts if the numbers or the length of time is over certain thresholds. It’s in use in care plans that include general pain management, surgical, and neurology (headache management), and provides a view into usage, and the opportunity to reach out and help patients outside the clinic before usage becomes a problem.

We’re strong believers in the ability for patients to record their own outcomes and experiences, and the value of combining this with prescribing and clinical data to close the loop on delivering better care. If you’re interested in learning more, get in touch.

Posted in: Adherence, Behavior Change, Healthcare Legislation, HIPAA, Opioids, Outcomes, patient engagement

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May You Live In Interesting Times: Wellpepper’s Most Interesting Blog Posts of 2017

Who would have predicted 2017? As soon as the election results were in, we knew there would be trouble for the Affordable Care Act no one could have predicted the path through repeal with no replacement to claw backs in a tax bill that no one has read. It’s been a crazy ride in healthcare and otherwise. As we look ahead to 2018, we’ve found that a good place to start is by looking back at what was popular in 2017.

Looking back over the past year’s top blog posts, we also believe trends that started in 2017, but will even stronger in 2018. These four themes bubbled up to the top in our most-read blog posts of 2017:

Shift to the cloud

We’ve noticed a much wider spread acceptance of cloud technologies in healthcare, and the big cloud platform vendors have definitely taken an interest in the space. Wellpepper CTO Mike Van Snellenberg’s comprehensive primer on using AWS with HIPAA protected data was one of our most read posts. Since he wrote it, even more AWS services have become HIPAA-eligible.

Using AWS with HIPAA-Protected Data – A Practical Primer

Consumerization of healthcare

Consumer expectations for efficient online interactions have been driven by high-deductible plans and an expectation from consumer technology and industries like retail and banking that customer service should be personalized, interactive, and real-time. These two posts about the consumerization of healthcare were among the most popular.

The Disneyfication or Consumerization of Healthcare

Consumerization Is Not A Bad Word

Value of patient-generated data

In 2017 we saw a real acceptance of patient-generated data. Our customers started asking about putting certain data in the EMR, and our analysis of the data we collect showed interesting trends in patient adherence and predictors of readmission. This was reflected in the large readership of these two blog posts focused on the clinical and business value of collecting and analyzing patient-generated data.

In Defense of Patient-Generated Data

Realizing Value In Patient Engagement

Power of voice technology

Voice technology definitely had a moment this year. Okay Google, and Alexa were asked to play music, turn on lights, and more importantly questions about healthcare. As winners of the Alexa Diabetes Challenge, we saw the power of voice firsthand when testing voice with people newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. The emotional connection to voice is stronger than mobile, and it’s such a natural interaction in people-powered healthcare. Our blog posts on the Alexa Diabetes Challenge, and developing a voice solution were definitely in the top 10 most read.

Introducing Sugarpod by Wellpepper, a comprehensive diabetes care plan

Building a Voice Experience for People with Type 2 Diabetes

Ready When You Are: Voice Interfaces for Patient Engagement

Since these themes are still evolving we think 2018 will present a shift from investigation to action, from consideration to deployment and possibly insights. Machine-learning and AI will probably remain high in the hype cycle, and certainly the trends of horizontal and vertical healthcare mergers will continue. We also expect a big move from one of the large technology companies who have all been increasing their focus in healthcare, which in turn will accelerate the shift to a consumer-focus in healthcare.

There’s a saying “may you live in interesting times.” We expect 2018 to be at least as interesting as 2017. Onwards!

Note: There was one additional post that hit the most popular list. Interestingly, it was a post from 2014 on whether SMART or MEANINGFUL goals are better for patients. We’re not sure why it resurfaced, but based on analysis we’ve done of patient-directed goals, we think there’s a third approach.

Posted in: Behavior Change, Healthcare Disruption, Healthcare motivation, Healthcare Research, Healthcare Technology, Healthcare transformation, HIPAA, patient engagement, patient-generated data, Voice

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EvergreenHealth: Evolving Care Outside The Clinic for Better Outcomes

In 2016 we formally announced our collaboration with EvergreenHealth to deliver interactive care plans for Total Joint Replacement.

“Across our organization, we strive to be a trusted source for innovative care solutions for our patients and families, and our partnership with Wellpepper helps us deliver on that commitment,” said EvergreenHealth CEO Bob Malte. “Since we began using Wellpepper in 2014, we’ve seen how the solution enhances the interaction between patients and providers and ultimately leads to optimal recovery and the best possible outcomes for our patients.”

EvergreenHealth is an integrated health care system that serves nearly 1 million residents in King and Snohomish counties in Washington State, and offers a breadth of services and programs that is among the most comprehensive in the region. More than 1,300 physicians provide clinical excellence in over 80 specialties, including heart and vascular care, oncology, surgical care, orthopedics, neurosciences, women’s and children’s services, pulmonary care and home care and hospice services. With expansion into more rural areas, and a catchment area that serves Seattle’s ‘eastside’ home to Microsoft and other major technology companies, delivering virtual care is both an imperative for an an expectation of EvergreenHealth patients.

Since our initial announcement, we’ve seen thousands of patients complete care plans and outcome surveys, and expanded within the musculoskeletal service line to include preventive care, spine surgery, and general rehabilitation.

User Experience

EvergreenHealth has a white labeled version of the Wellpepper patient application called MyEvergreen and available in Android and Apple App Stores. Clinicians use the Wellpepper clinic portal, and receive alerts to their email inbox if patients report any issues or unexpected outcomes.

EvergreenHealth has deployed care plans based on their own clinical best practices. 

Outcomes

  • Thousands of patients have used Wellpepper interactive care plans at EvergreenHealth
  • Interactive care plan users show higher scores on standardized outcome reports than those tracking outcomes without an interactive care plan
  • EvergreenHealth patients show a higher engagement level than Wellpepper’s overall 70% engagement

I would not want to have another knee surgery without the app. I was 81 and it wasn’t hard for me at all!

Total Knee Replacement Patient at EvergreenHealth

Technology

This deployment used a white labeled Android and iOS application for patients, and a clinic portal for clinicians. Patient invitation is synched with the Cerner medical records software using an ADT feed. Clinicians are notified of patients requiring additional help with an email alert. Wellpepper’s entire HIPAA secure platform was leveraged for this implementation, and EvergreenHealth deployed custom care plans based on their own best practices. They continue to add innovative features as they are added to the Wellpepper platform.

Posted in: Exercise Physiology, Healthcare costs, Healthcare Technology, HIPAA, Interoperability, M-health, Outcomes, patient engagement, Prehabilitation, Seattle

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