Projects, designs, and writings on health IT

2015-09-03

A Call for Innovators

10:16 PM Posted by David Do, MD , No comments

This weekend, 1500 hackers will descend upon Philadelphia to try to change the world at the 12th gathering of PennApps, the nation's largest collegiate hackathon. These college students will identify real-world problems, form teams and pull all-nighters to design and build technological solutions that solve them in less than 48 hours. Since last year, PennApps features a health component, which promises prizes for notable healthcare innovations.

Innovation is a hot topic for hospitals these days, in large part due to a changing landscape of reimbursement that includes quality-based adjustments, disease-related groups, and withheld payments for hospital-acquired conditions and readmissions. Administrators and providers understand they must adapt, but they often lack the design skills and the technical skills to implement change in this era defined by the digitization of medicine. That is why their survival depends on startup companies and the wave of technological innovation fueled by talent seen at hackathons like these.

Innovators, if you are reading, here is what healthcare needs from you. Forget the wearables, the quantified self, and automated diagnosis. There are more pressing needs that often require adaptation of ideas already proven in consumer web. Here are some ideas:

  • Trello for patients - There is tremendous emphasis on decreasing length of stay because each day in the hospital is expensive. Streamlining the processes is difficult. Imagine an automobile factory in which every product is completely different and requires a different subset of skilled mechanics. This is the type of factory that a hospital resembles. Patients often stay extra days to see a specialist. Hospitals need tools that coordinate and streamline schedules for providers, patients, and social workers. Those familiar with project management will know that tools like Kanban or apps like Trello can help keep projects on time. 
  • Google Analytics for Provider-specific Prescribing habits - Another component of increasing value is eliminating unnecessary testing. The amount of testing varies tremendously by provider; there is scant evidence about when and how often a patient should get blood draws, and consequently most patients in the hospital get them once daily. A platform that allows providers to see their prescribing habits and patient outcomes compared with peers would be essential in helping them change.
  • Patient-based Twitter or Slack - Communications between providers exist in many forms, including written notes in the chart, text messages, telephone calls, and emails. The nature of healthcare is team-based, with members of the team entering and exiting at various points in care. Providers need a way to be involved in this ongoing conversation, perhaps similar to an internal Twitter in which they can hash-tag the patient's name, allowing more providers to be part of the conversations. 
  • Airline Price Predictor for illness severity - In a setting with many patients and providers, it's difficult to know who needs more resources at any given time. Despite the digitization of vital signs and other parts of the medical record, there are few good predictors for clinical events like sepsis and intubation. Most of the tools currently in place are built to respond to problems rather than predict them.
  • Kayak for Pharmaceuticals - When patients are discharged with medications like antibiotics, the insurance approval process can take days. Further, upon approval, providers and patients may discover they face copays in the $1000s. Providers need realtime lookups for pricing so they can choose an alternative medication that is covered by the patient's insurer. Some companies, like Eligible API have started to offer data services to help solve problems like these.

There was never an era that had so many gatherings of problem solvers and innovators. Healthcare must tap into this talent pool. Stay tuned to see what comes out of PennApps.

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