Bill Gates Believes Human Health Is More Important Than Tech

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With Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on the way out, some have wondered if the company’s co-founder, Bill Gates, might be interested in returning to his role as head honcho. But if a new interview is any indication, Gates thinks there are things far more important than tech that deserve his attention.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Financial Times, which focused primarily on his work to bring health aid to the world's impoverished regions, Gates offers a glimpse into how much his views have changed regarding the importance of technology in our lives Read more...

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Could cell phone companies solve the mHealth problem?

mHealth is really great at one thing: generating tons of patient-provided data that no one has quite figured out how to use in an efficient, effective, workflow-friendly way.  While the potential for mHealth and remote patient monitoring are huge, and the number of available apps for Apple and Android platforms is staggering, EHRs are rarely able to make use of non-native dietary trackers or blood pressure logs, and some physicians aren’t even sure they want to.
But Verizon’s introduction of its Converged Health Management system presents an interesting opportunity.  Could cell phone companies, with their deep network penetration and enormous, captive customer base, harness the power of smartphones by providing a trusted infrastructure for increasing patient engagement, standardizing patient-provided data, and incentivizing compliance?
The FDA approved system uses a dedicated device to allow patients to collect biometric data like glucose levels, oxygen saturation, and body weight, which is then automatically transmitted to Verizon’s HIPAA-compliant cloud, where it can be analyzed and viewed by participating healthcare providers.  Patients can view their data, connect anonymously with other users to ask health questions, or receive feedback from their providers between visits.  To integrate the information into an EHR, providers can connect to the network through an API.
While neither the concept nor the technology is particularly new, it’s the large scale and immense reach of Verizon as a communications provider that may provide the key for success.  “Converged Health Management is a perfect example of how we are using our unique combination of assets like our 4G LTE wireless network and cloud infrastructure to deliver an innovative, cost-effective and game-changing solution to the marketplace,” said John Stratton, President of Verizon Enterprise Solutions, in a press release.
Just as many of the big EHR vendors have found success by standardizing their software across large numbers of customers, making it easier to exchange data and communicate, mHealth might benefit from similar codification by a small number of well-known, well-equipped entities.  There are more than 100,000 health-related apps available to consumers, and few are endorsed or approved by recognized medical authorities.  Would patients be more likely to use a pre-vetted application to engage with their providers through their smartphone if they knew that their carrier’s network was securing and storing the data?
As home monitoring becomes more important for an aging generation of baby boomers and the mHealth market continues to expand, it will be an interesting question to ponder.  Patients are generally positive about using their smartphones for healthcare purposes, and physicians may be more likely to join in that enthusiasm if they could access a simple, meaningful interface directly from their EHRs and backed by one of the biggest names in the data business.

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42% of docs fear mHealth will lessen their power over patients

Patient empowerment might be going a step too far for nearly half of physicians surveyed in a PWC report about mHealth.  While 27% of providers actively encourage their patients to use mHealth applications to take control of their health, just under half acknowledged that this increasing independence may shift the balance of power in the patient’s favor, leading to an erosion of the trust that’s so central to healthcare today.
Patients remain highly interested in the use of mHealth on a smartphone or tablet to monitor their health, motivate changes, communicate with providers, and collect personal data.  Nearly 60% said in the next three years, mHealth will change how they seek information on health issues, and around half believe that providers will get on board, changing the way health information is communicated.  Patients look forward to the increased convenience and availability that mHealth will bring the, and 48% think that mobile medicine will improve the quality of their care.
While patients are embracing mHealth as a way to increase access to health information and the control of their own personal health information (PHI), physicians aren’t entirely sure they like the way the industry is heading.  Thirteen percent of physicians actively discourage the use of mHealth apps among their patients.  Many of them are younger physicians, who perhaps recognize the impact of technology on their own lives, and don’t particularly like the convenience and independence that might cut their profession out of the loop.
“mHealth is about fundamentally changing the social contract between patients and doctors,” said Eric Dishman, Intel’s director of health innovation at the time of the 2012 PWC report.  ”[Physicians are] likely to resist the loss of power implicit in greater patient control.”
“The real solution to that last problem is not for physicians to discourage the use of mobile apps, it’s better patient education,” counters Paul Cerrato from InformationWeek Healthcare. “That means developing a trusting relationship with patients so that they believe you have their best interests at heart when you try to steer them away from untrustworthy mobile apps and websites.   A growing number of doctors also welcome a shared decision-making process with their patients and see the doctor/patient relationship as a partnership.”
Many physicians do recognize the positive possibilities for increased communication with mobile health.  Just over a third believe it can help monitor a patient’s condition, while 38% enjoy the idea of having remote access to EHR data.  If mHealth was shown to improve the quality of care, 36% would adopt the technology more fully.  Payers are embracing mHealth, too, especially in emerging international markets where healthcare is exploring ways to leverage mobile technology to conquer geographic and economic obstacles.
Physicians are experiencing a wide variety of technology initiatives and system-wide reforms that may make them feel like they’re on shaky ground, but as the mHealth market matures and valuable products distinguish themselves from the pack, consumers and providers alike may be more likely to view mHealth as a collaborative tools rather than a struggle for control.

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