Observations from the ATA Fall Forum

September 27, 2013 Hafiz Vellani

The advent of telehealth has presented opportunities previously inconceivable by society or inaccessible for most of the world. When I was recently attending ATA’s Fall Forum in Toronto, I was struck by two very interesting theories:

Telehealth is Still in its Early Days

This is almost like the turn of the millenium was for the Internet; telehealth is still in its infancy. By this, I mean there are tons of areas around the world that could benefit from remote medical services, but traditionally they’ve relied on very expensive infrastructure to create these telehealth solutions.

Healthcare providers don’t realize that most of the power they need is on technology their patients already have. Forget giant teleconferencing solutions – smartphones and tablets can perform the same function at a fraction of the cost. Through the appropriate security encryption and measures, as well as the right network speed, patients could use a video conference tool (such as Google Hangouts) to communicate with healthcare providers.

Rather than spending funds on telemedicine centers, healthcare providers could use solutions designed around smartphones and tablets, which are prevalent worldwide. Patients will still need the corresponding medical instruments and sensors around them; however, the preconceptions and general lack of awareness around security and privacy, as well as restrictive guidelines controlling patient data, prevents healthcare providers from fully exploring consumer mobile as a more efficient solution.

The general misconception is that providers and patients can’t get the optimum level of privacy through smartphones. However, the reality is that many parties already conduct sensitive activities through smartphones, such as banking. Also, these same parties hold intimate conversations through their mobile devices as well. Patient/Provider interaction is very sensitive, however we already place a great level of trust in smartphones with our financial and personal data – I think it may be time to start trusting smartphones to manage our health data as well. I am not conveying public access to health data by any means, but rather the idea of accessing patient data outside the institutional environment and giving providers and patients the mobility they deserve.

Entrepreneurial Solutions are Necessary

There are not enough healthcare providers who are also entrepreneurs. The reason for this: the opportunity cost and risk for practitioners to leave their jobs and start their own ventures is high. The drawback to this is they’re the ones best positioned to save a system faced with bankruptcy. Healthcare practitioners are crucial to identifying key challenges and problems within the health system. While software developers have great theoretical ideas, they don’t understand the environment and the patient process as thoroughly; ultimately, these ideas are doomed to fail without an intimate knowledge of the problem. More importantly, software developers do not have a deep understanding of the patient psyche – incentives, motivation, and habitual re-engineering are extremely difficult concepts to grasp and solve through a mobile solution. With their intimate knowledge of the health system and patient psyche, healthcare providers must begin embracing an entrepreneurial spirit to foster the next generation of mobile health solutions.

On the flipside, for those healthcare providers who are willing to change the system with mobile solutions, there is a lack of access to parties who can help them bring their ideas to fruition. Healthcare providers can precisely identify problems, but don’t completely understand what can be implemented in the mobile world. For example, previously I noted providers have a great understanding of patient processes and psyche, however they lack a knowledge of mobile screen flow and user experience. Similarly, patient incentives and motivation in healthcare can be conveyed through user gamification and social support networks in mobile. The obvious parallelism between the patient and mobile user further amplifies the need for experts in mobile to translate these healthcare visions into practical solutions. That includes software developers, hardware engineers, UX/UI designers, and venture capitalists who can help fuel and foster these next generation of ideas.

Closing Thoughts

Building mobile healthcare solutions can be difficult, especially with the immense issues of security, privacy, and risk aversion from potential entrepreneurs. We’ve built our own health solutions, so we understand the difficulties in bringing mobile into the field of health. These are just a couple of the theories I encountered at ATA 2013, and I look forward to discovering what advances will be made by this time next year.


Connect with Hafiz on LinkedIn.

About the Author


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