Healthcare Technology and the Responsibility of Innovation
The Washington Business Journal just recently honored the Iron Bow team as a 2017 Innovation Award honoree for our Clinical Care Device – the CLINiC. And while I’m deeply grateful to be recognized as a tech solutions leader in the DC-area, the award speaks to a much larger point — innovation doesn’t only have to be wondrous, it should also be purpose-driven.
A patent pending solution the CLINiC, is a portable consultation system including medical peripherals and information technology for use in clinical environments that enable remote examination and diagnosis via live high definition video conferencing. When the Iron Bow team developed the vision for the CLINiC, the project was as much about expanding access to quality care as it was about expanding the horizon of healthcare technology.
And though the CLINiC is certainly a big step forward for healthcare, like most telehealth efforts, the advancement also serves a fundamentally larger social purpose. Telehealth innovations like the CLINiC fill voids where the demand for physician services are greater than supply, where input from specialists are desired, and where individuals reside in underserved areas. Additionally, the healthcare gap can be bridged for those areas ravaged by natural disasters and impoverished localities.
A 2016 article in Becker’s Hospital Review cited several industry reports predicting telemedicine would grow exponentially in the coming years, filling in the gaps left by traditional access to healthcare.
Forty-two states proposed a total of more than 200 pieces of telehealth-related legislation in 2015 alone, the article says. Beyond that, 29 states and DC. currently uphold laws mandating health plans cover telemedicine services. An IHS Technology report cited in the article predicts there will be about 7 million telehealth patient users by 2018, compared to only 350,000 patient users in 2013.
Telehealth isn’t only for the most extreme cases where people are stranded without healthcare options. We also see a lack of access in our own backyard. While the nation’s capital offers significant capabilities and a broad range of specialty services, not all hospitals are able to provide those specialty services 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Even with a good network of care centers, metropolitan hospitals are often overburdened, operating beyond their staffing capabilities. Recently, a DC hospital had a shortage of psychologists and couldn’t provide behavioral care services to patients in need. That hospital was outfitted with the CLINiC, enabling those patients access to care utilizing an off-site provider.
Those who needed to see a psychologist went to their local hospital, but instead of talking to a doctor in person, they received care via telehealth. This demonstrates that for innovation in healthcare access to be successful, health systems must evolve to accept and broaden innovative technologies.
The narrative works in reverse, as well. Hospitals in DC that provide specialty care or have the capacity to help out other health systems can use telehealth technology to reach widespread patients and even those in the same city that lack quality access to health facilities.
In one recent instance, a regional hospital in the DC-area started using the CLINiC to expand care outside of its brick-and-mortar location. The hospital opened a facility in a local retail space that will utilize the CLINiC to provide healthcare services to patients visiting the retail site. Those patients will interact with a physician via the CLINiC just as if they were at the hospital facility itself.
This type of outreach offers hospitals enhanced access in the communities they serve and provides a convenient venue to deploy population health services, which are designed to keep communities healthier and prevent chronic conditions.
It’s easy to get caught up in innovation for innovation’s sake. We’re forward thinkers after all, and our passion is pushing the boundaries of technology. But our best and most important ideas come when we seek not only to innovate, but also to solve a problem. Those problems can be as technical as next-generation networking or as broad and socially impactful as access to quality healthcare services.
At Iron Bow, we have a mantra, “What We Do Matters!” I think we’ve achieved that with the development of the CLINiC, but that won’t stop us from identifying opportunities to improve on our current accomplishments.