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EMR Vendors Slow To Integrate Telemedicine Options

Posted on August 27, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Despite the massive growth in demand for virtual medical services, major EMR vendors are still proving slow to support such options, seemingly ceding the market to more agile telemedicine startups.

Independent telemedicine vendors targeting consumers are growing like weeds. Players like Doctor on Demand, NowClinic, American Well and HealthTap are becoming household names, touted not only in healthcare blogs but on morning TV talk shows. These services, which typically hire physicians as consultants, offer little continuity of care but provide a level of easy access unheard of in other settings.

Part of what’s fueling this growth is that health insurers are finally starting to pay for virtual medical visits. For example, Medicare and nearly every state Medicaid plan also cover at least some telemedicine services. Meanwhile, 29 states require that private payers cover telehealth the same as in-person services.

Hospitals and health systems are also getting on board the telemedicine train. For example, Stanford Healthcare recently rolled out a mobile health app, connected to Apple HealthKit and its Epic EMR, which allows patients to participate in virtual medical appointments through its ClickWell Care clinic. Given how popular virtual doctor visits have become, I’m betting that most next-gen apps created by large providers will offer this option.

EMR vendors, for their part, are adding telemedicine support to their platforms, but they’re not doing much to publicize it. Take Epic, whose EpicCare Ambulatory EMR can be hooked up to a telemedicine module. The EpicCare page on its site mentions that telemedicine functionality is available, but certainly does little to convince buyers to select it. In fact, Epic has offered such options for years, but I never knew that, and lately I spend more time tracking telemedicine than I do any other HIT trend.

As I noted in my latest broadcast on Periscope (follow @ziegerhealth), EMR vendors are arguably the best-positioned tech vendors to offer telemedicine services. After all, EMRs are already integrated into a hospital or clinic’s infrastructure and workflow. And this would make storage and clinical classification of the consults easier, making the content of the videos more valuable. (Admittedly, developing a classification scheme — much less standards — probably isn’t trivial, but that’s a subject for another article.)

What’s more, rather than relying on the rudimentary information supplied by patient self-reports, clinicians could rely on full-bodied medical data stored in that EMR. I could even see next-gen video visit technology which exposes medical data to patients and allows patients to discuss it live with doctors.

But that’s not how things are evolving. Instead, it seems that providers are largely outsourcing telemedicine services, a respectable but far less robust way to get things done. I don’t know if this will end up being the default way they deliver virtual visits, but unless EMR vendors step up, they’ll certainly have to work harder to get a toehold in this market.

I don’t know why so few EMR companies are rolling out their own virtual visit options. To me, it seems like a no-brainer, particularly for smaller ambulatory vendors which still need to differentiate themselves. But if I were an investor in a lagging EMR venture, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d want to know the answer.

Bosch’s Telemedicine Shutdown Suggests New Models Are Needed

Posted on June 25, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

While many new telehealth plays are rapidly gaining ground, the previous generation may be outliving its usefulness. That may be the message one can take from one giant German conglomerate’s decision to shut down its U.S. telemedicine division.

Robert Bosch GmbH recently announced that it would shut down its U.S. telehealth unit, Robert Bosch Healthcare Systems, which makes business-to-business telemedicine systems. Its offerings include patient interfaces, software and platforms.

You may never have heard of this healthcare company, nor of its massive corporate parent Robert Bosch GmbH, but it’s part of a very large conglomerate with virtually infinite resources.

As it turns out, Bosch is a massive firm which competes with market leaders like GE and Siemens. Robert Bosch GmbH, which has existed since 1886, has more than 350 subsidiaries across about 60 countries and employs about 306,000 people. (I could share more, but I’m sure you get the idea.)

While the failure of one company’s telemedicine strategy doesn’t necessarily mean death for all similar plays, it does suggest that the nimble smaller firms may have more of an advantage than it appears.

Bosch Healthcare was actually way ahead of the market with its offerings, which included remote monitoring tools such as a touch-screen device for home use after hospital discharge and a family of mHealth tools aimed at chronic care management.But they appear to have been held back by proprietary technologies in a market that demands cheap and easy.

Ultimately, the end came when the parent company wasn’t happy with how the telehealth division was performing financially, and decided to cut and run. A statement from the company said that Bosch plans to shift its medical focus to sensor technologies to support improved diagnostics.

It’s hardly surprising that a company Bosch’s size would fail to keep up with the marketplace, given its size. No matter how smart the division’s 125 employees were, they were probably saddled with big company politics which prevented them from making big changes. Not to mention low priced tablets appeared and created a low cost competitor.

The question is, will other large players follow Bosch’s lead? It will be worth noting whether other large companies cede the telehealth market to small and emerging entrants as well. It’s not a no-brainer that this will happen; after all, there’s billions to be made here. But they may actually be wise enough to know when they’re ill-equipped to proceed.

I’ll be particularly interested to see what strategies existing health IT players adopt toward telehealth. It’s unclear how they’ll react to rising consumer and professional interest in telehealth technology, but whatever they do it will probably be worth analyzing.

That being said, with smaller companies out there breaking new ground with next-gen telemedicine apps and tools, they’re probably going to be in the unusual position of playing catch up. And in this case, slow and steady may not win the race.

FDA-Approved Digital Health Should Save $100B+ Over Next Four Years

Posted on June 8, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Here’s some research which suggests that a lack of “medical grade” digital health tools is perhaps the final obstacle holding healthcare back adopting them full scale — and reaping the benefits.

Accenture released a study last week concluding that FDA-regulated digital health solutions should save the U.S. healthcare system more than $100 billion between now and the next four years.

The scant number of digital health solutions the FDA has already approved has already had a meaningful impact, generating $6 billion in cost savings last year courtesy of improved med adherence, fewer ED visits and digitally-supported behavior changes, Accenture reports.

But that’s just a drop in the bucket, if Accenture is right. The consulting firm expects our health system to save $10 billion this year thanks to use of such devices. And then, as the FDA approves more digital health technology, the savings figure should make dramatic jumps over the next few years, hitting $18 billion in ’16, $30 billion in ’17 and $50 billion in ’18.

What’s intriguing about these numbers is that they assume each FDA approval will seemingly generate not only more savings, but also a cumulative “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” effect.

After all, in raw numbers, the number of devices Accenture is relying on to achieve this effect is small, from 33 approved last year to 100 by the end of 2018. In other words, 67 devices will help to generate an additional $44 billion in savings.

That being said, what makes Accenture so sure that the ever-so-slow FDA will approve even 70-odd devices over the next few years?

* Provider demand:  At present, about one-quarter of U.S. doctors “routinely” use tele-monitoring devices for chronic disease management, researchers found. As hospitals and medical practices look to integrate such solutions with their core EMR infrastructure, they’ll look to please providers who want digital health tech they can trust.

Reimbursement shifts:  Accenture argues that as value-based reimbursement becomes more the norm, health leaders will increasingly see digital health solutions as a means of meeting their goals. And medical device providers will be only to happy to provide them.

Regulatory conditions: With FDA guidelines in place specifying when wellness tools like heart rate monitors become health devices, it will be easier for the FDA to speed up the process of digital health technologies, Accenture predicts. This should support 30% annual growth of such solutions through 2018, the study found.

Consumer health tracking:  Consumer demand for health tracking devices, especially wearables, should continue its rapid expansion, with the number of consumers owning a wearable fitness device to double from 22% this year to 43% by 2020, according to the consulting firm.

While Accenture doesn’t address the impact of digital health tech that doesn’t get FDA approval, there’s little doubt that it too will have a significant impact on both health outcomes and cost savings. Ultimately, though, it could be that it will take an FDA seal of approval to get widespread adoption of such technologies.

Hospitals Should Give Smartphones To Sick Patients

Posted on June 1, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

As I see it, hospitals have developed a new and rapidly emerging problem when it comes to managing mobile health services. Not only do they face major obstacles in controlling staff use of tablets and smartphones, they’re right in the center of the growing use of these devices for health by consumer. It’s BYOD writ even larger.

Admittedly, most of the consumers who use mobile devices don’t rely that heavily on them to guard and guide their health. The healthiest of consumers may make a lot of use of wearable fitness bands, and a growing subset of consumers may occasionally leverage their phone’s video capabilities to do telemedicine consults, but few consumers base their medical lives around a mobile device.

The chronically-ill patients that do, however, are very important to the future of not only hospitals — which need to keep needless care and readmits to a minimum if they want to meet ACO goals — but also the insurance companies who finance the care.

After all, the more we dig into mHealth, the more it appears that mobile services and software can impact the cost of care for chronic conditions. Even experiments using text messages, the lightest-weight mobile technology available, have been successful at, for example, helping young women lose weight, change their diets, and slash their risk of cardiac problems. Just imagine the impact more-sophisticated technologies offering medication management, care coordination, blood glucose and pulse ox tracking could have on patients needing support.

But there’s a catch here. A long as mHealth services are delivered via the patient’s own device, the odds of successfully rolling out apps or connected health monitoring services are minimal. I’d argue that such mHealth services will only have a major impact on sick patients if the technology and apps are bolted to the hospital or clinic’s IT infrastructure.  And the operating system used by patients, be it Android or iOS, should be the same one the hospital supports among its employees, or maintaining apps, OS upgrades and patches and even firmware upgrades will be a nightmare to maintain.

Given the security and maintenance issues involved in fostering a connection between provider and patient, I’d argue that providers who are serious about advanced mHealth services absolutely must give targeted chronically-ill patients a locked-down, remote controlled smartphone or tablet (probably a smartphone for mobility) and lock out their networks from those trying to use connected apps on a rogue device.

Will this be expensive?  Sure, but it depends on how you look at costs.  For one thing, don’t you think the IT staff costs of managing access by various random devices on your network — or heaven forbid, addressing security holes they may open in your EMR — far exceed even the $700-odd retail price for such devices?

This might be a good time to get ahead of this issue. If you’re forced to play catch up later, it could cost a lot more.

Infographic: How Mobile Health Use Is Changing

Posted on May 26, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Mobile health apps and hardware offer intriguing possibilities, though it’s hard for providers to tell what models and methods of use are going to stand out.  Clearly, mHealth is going to change the way care is delivered, and how patients take part in that care, but how?

Here’s a tidbit from McKesson that might offer some useful insight. The infographic, which draws on data from The Economist Intelligence Unit, predicts that mHealth is moving from providing consumer information to driving patients’ involvement in their own care.

One of the more interesting details in this chart is the prediction that within five years, the percentage of people using mHealth apps to share information will fall from an already-low 17% to 14%.

I was also intrigued by the notion that the number of people using mHealth to gain social support will rise from 17% now, rise to 26% then fall to 13%.  Does this suggest that consumers will shift communications styles back to more face-to-face channels of support?  That they’ll rely on some technology or model that hasn’t been invented yet?
It’s something to consider.

 

photo-changing-trends-in-mobile-health-technology

 

Medical Device Vendors Will Inevitably Build Wearables

Posted on May 21, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

As we’ve reported in the past, hospitals are throwing their weight behind the use of wearables at a growing clip. Perhaps the most recent major deal connecting hospital EMRs with wearables data came late last month, when Cedars-Sinai Medical Center announced that it would be running Apple’s HealthKit platform. Cedars-Sinai, one of many leading hospitals piloting this technology, is building an architecture that will ultimately tie 80,000 patients to its Epic system via HealthKit.

But it’s not just software vendors that are jumping into the wearables data market with both feet. No, as important as the marriage of Epic and HealthKit will be to the future of wearables data, the increasing participation of medical device giants in this market is perhaps even more so.

Sure, when fitness bands and health tracking smartphone apps first came onto the market, they were created by smaller firms with a vision, such as the inventors who scored so impressively when they crowdfunded the Pebble smartwatch.  (As is now legendary, Pebble scooped up more than $20M in Kickstarter funding despite shooting for only $500,000.)

The time is coming rapidly, however, when hospitals and doctors will want medical-grade data from monitoring devices. Fairly or not, I’ve heard many a clinician dismiss the current generation of wearables — smartwatches, health apps and fitness monitoring bands alike — as little more than toys.  In other words, while many hospitals are willing to pilot-test HealthKit and other tools that gather wearables data, eventually that data will have to be gathered by sophisticated tools to meet the clinical demands over the long-term.

Thus, it’s no surprise that medical device manufacturing giants like Philips are positioning themselves to leapfrog over existing wearables makers. Why else would Jeroen Tas, CEO of Philips’ healthcare informatics solutions, make a big point of citing the healthcare benefits of wearables over time?

In a recent interview, Tas told the Times of India that the use of wearables combined with cloud-based monitoring approaches are cutting hospital admissions and care costs sharply. In one case, Tas noted, digital monitoring of heart failure patients by six Dutch hospitals over a four-year period led to a 57% cut in the number of nursing days, 52% decrease in hospital admissions and an average 26% savings in cost of care per patient.

In an effort to foster similar results for other hospitals, Philips is building an open digital platform capable of linking to a wide range of wearables, feeds doctors information on their patients, connects patients, relatives and doctors and enables high-end analytics.  That puts it in competition, to one degree or another, with Microsoft, Qualcomm, Samsung, Google and Apple, just for starters.

But that’s not the fun part.  When things will get really interesting  is when Philips, and fellow giants GE Healthcare and Siemens, start creating devices that doctors and hospitals will see as delivering medical grade data, offering secure data transmission and integrating intelligently with data produced by other hospital medical devices.

While it’s hard to imagine Apple moving in that direction, Siemens must do so, and it will, without a doubt. I look forward to the transformation of the whole wearables “thing” from some high-end experimentation to a firmly-welded approach built by medical device leaders. When Siemens and its colleagues admit that they have to own this market, everything about digital health and remote monitoring will change.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Rolls Out Apple HealthKit

Posted on April 29, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Racking up yet another win in a string of deals with prominent health systems and hospitals, Apple has won Cedars-Sinai Medical Center over to running its HealthKit platform. According to Bloomberg, the agreement which connects 80,000 patients to HealthKit is the largest integration project done with HealthKit to date.

Apple caught a lead in the patient health data game early on, snagging high-profile Ochsner Health System as its first customer in October of last year. And HealthKit has continued to see success. A Reuters story reported in February that 14 of 23 top U.S. hospitals contacted by the news organization had rolled out a pilot program testing the platform. In other words, while it has formidable competition, Apple seems to have already become the platform of choice for experimenting with patient generated data.

It has to have helped that HealthKit was already set to connect with a wide range of consumer health tracking apps. Within months of its summer 2014 launch, Apple could boast a family of more than 60 apps that connected to the platform, including Withings app HealthMate, Weight Watchers Mobile, a Panera Bread app allowing users to plan meals at the store, a  Mayo Clinic app, Epic’s MyChart portal app and more.

But Apple’s competitors in the consumer health space aren’t going to give up without a fight. With the wearables market reaching 21% of consumers, fellow behemoths like Samsung, Google and Microsoft will continue to challenge Apple for the patient-generated data crown.

Microsoft, for example, has launched a collection of wearables devices — including a fitness-tracking wristband, mobile health app and cloud-based health data platform called Microsoft Health. In Microsoft’s architecture, users store health and fitness data generated by wearables, which is, in turn collected by the Health app. And remember Microsoft’s HealthVault PHR?  It finds new life here, as another place for patients to store the data they personally generate.

Google also announced its a fitness and health tracking platform last summer, dubbed Google Fit. Google Fit is an open platform offering the platform SDK freely to developers. At launch, its partners included Nike+, Adidas, Motorola, Runkeeper and HTC.

Samsung, for its part, has positioned itself in more of a support role to the wearables revolution. Last May it introduced the Samsung Simband, a reference architecture for wearables. It also released open health data cloud platform SAMI (Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions), which takes data from multiple sources and drills down on the data to analyze the health status of individual users.

But despite the massive firepower behind Apple’s competitors, Apple seems to have slipped ahead and taken the marketing high ground. Expect to see lots of hospitals announce that HealthKit is their patient-generated data platform of choice over the next few years. It seems like Apple is doing the right thing at the right time.

Is Apple HealthKit Headed For Hospital Dominance?

Posted on February 12, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Even for a company with the cash and reach of Apple, crashing the healthcare party is quite an undertaking.  Not only does healthcare come with unique technical challenges, it’s quite the conservative business, in many cases clinging to old technologies and approaches longer than other data-driven industries.

Of late, however, Apple’s HealthKit has attracted the attention of some high-profile healthcare institutions, such as New Orleans-based Ochsner Medical Center and Stanford Healthcare. All told, a total of fourteen major U.S. hospitals are running trials of HealthKit. What’s more, more than 600 developers are integrating HealthKit tech into their own health and fitness apps.

What’s particularly interesting is that some of these healthcare organizations are integrating Apple’s new patient-facing, iOS HealthKit app with Epic EMRs and the HealthKit enterprise platform.  If this works out, it could vault Apple into a much more lucrative position in the industry, as bringing together health app, platform and EMR accomplishes one of the major steps in leveraging mobile health.

According to MobiHealthNews, the new app allows patients to check out test results, manage prescriptions, set appointments, hold video visits with Stanford doctors, review medical bills — and perhaps most significantly, upload their vital signs remotely and have the data added to their Epic chart. This is a big step forward for hospitals, but even more so for doctors, many of whom have warned that they have no time to manage a separate stream of mobile patient data as part of patient care.

For Apple leaders, the next step will be to roll out the upcoming Apple Watch and integrate it into its expanding Internet of Apple Healthcare Things. CEO Tim Cook is pitching the Apple Watch as a key component in promoting consumer health. While the iPhone gathers data, the smart watch will proactively remind consumers to move. “If I sit for too long, it will actually tap me on the wrist to remind me to get up and move, because a lot of doctors think sitting is the new cancer,” Cook told an audience at an investor conference recently.

All that being said, it’s not as though Apple is marching through healthcare corridor’s unopposed. For example, Samsung is very focused on becoming the mobile healthcare  technology provider of choice. For example, in November, Samsung announced relationships with 24 health IT partners, including Aetna, the Cleveland Clinic and Cigna.

At its second annual developer conference last December, Samsung introduced an array of software tools designed to support the buildout of a digital health ecosystem, including the Samsung Digital Health SDK and Gear S SDK, which lets app makers create software compatible with Samsung’s smart watches. Also, Samsung is already on the second generation of its Simband reference design for wearable device design, as well as the cloud-based Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions, which collects sensor data.

And Microsoft, of course, is not going to sit and watch idly as a multibillion-dollar market goes to competitors. For example, late last year the tech giant launched a fitness tracking wristband and mobile health app. It’s also kicked off a HealthKit-like platform, imaginatively dubbed Microsoft Health, which among other things, allows fitness band users to store data and transfer it to the Microsoft Health app. Microsoft isn’t winning the PR war as of yet — Apple still has a gift for doing that — but have no doubt that it’s lurking in the swamps like an alligator, ready to close its powerful jaws on the next right opportunity to expand its healthcare presence.

Bottom line, Apple has captured some big-name pilot testers for its HealthKit platform and related products, but the game is just beginning. Having users in place is a good start, but Apple is miles away from being able to declare itself the leader in the emerging hospital mobile health market.

A Turning Point? Wearables Could Save 1.3M Lives by 2020

Posted on December 22, 2014 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

For years, wearable health bands have been expensive toys useful almost exclusively to fit people who wanted to get fitter. On their own, wearables may be chic, sophisticated and even produce medically relevant information for the user, but they haven’t been integrated into practical care strategies for other populations.

And with good reason. For one thing, doctors don’t need to know whether an otherwise-healthy patient took 10,000 steps during a run, what their heart rate was on Thursdays in June or even what their pulse ox reading was if they’re not wheezy asthmatics. Just as importantly, today’s EMRs don’t allow for importing and analyzing this data even if it is important for that particular patient.

But as the banners at last week’s mHealth Summit pointed out, we’re headed for the era of the mHealth ecosystem, a world were all the various pieces needed to make patient generated data relevant are in place. That means good things for the future health of all patients, not just fitness nuts.  In fact, a Swiss analyst firm is predicting that smart wearable devices will save 1.3 million lives by 2020, largely through reductions in mortality to in-hospital use of such devices, according to mobihealthnews.

New research from Switzerland-based Soreon Research argues that smart wearables, connected directly with smart devices, projects that using wearables for in-hospital monitoring will probably save about 700,000 lives of the 1.3 million it expects to see preserved by 2020. Even better, wearables can then take the modern outside the hospital. “New wearable technology can easily extend monitoring functions beyond the intensive care unit and alert medical professionals to any follow on medical problems a patient may develop,” according to Soreon Research Director Pascal Koenig.

Not surprisingly, given their focus on monitoring aerobic activities, Soreon projects that wearables can be particularly helpful in avoiding cardiovascular disease and obesity. The firm believes that monitoring patients with wearables could prevent 230,000 deaths due to cardiovascular diseases, and reduce obesity related deaths by 150,000.

And that’s just a taste of how omnipresent wearables use may be within a few years. In fact, Soreon believes that patients with chronic conditions will help push up the smart wearables market from $2 billion today to $41 billion, or more than 1000% growth. That’s a pretty staggering growth rate regardless of how you look at it, but particularly given that at the moment, clinical use of smart wearables is largely in the pilot stage.

What few if any pundits are discussing — notably, as I see it — is what software tools hospitals will use to crunch this flood of data that will wash it on top of the astonishing volume of data EMRs are already producing.

True, at the mHealth Summit there were vendors pitching dashboards for just this purpose, who argued that their tools would allow healthcare organizations to manage populations via wearable. And of course tools like Apple HealthKit and Microsoft Health hope to serve as middlemen who can get the job done.

These solutions will definitely offer some value to providers. Still, I’d argue that wearables will not make a huge impact on clinical outcomes until the day what they produce can be managed efficiently within the EMR environment a provider uses, and I don’t see players like Epic and Cerner making big moves in this direction. When the mHealth ecosystem comes together it’s likely to produce everything analysts predict and more, but bringing things together may take much longer than they expect.

Here’s What Makes Henry Ford Health System’s Employee Innovation Program Tick

Posted on November 25, 2014 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Hospitals are increasingly launching efforts designed to leverage new technologies, be they working with healthcare accelerators, taking advantage of employee ideas or setting up onsite centers designed to support a culture of innovation. One institution which has gotten a little further down the road than many of its peers is Henry Ford Health System, whose innovations program has paid off handsomely, generating countless smart, useful inventions from its employees.

So serious is the health system about exploiting its employees’ great ideas that it’s made organized efforts to reward such thinking directly. For example, HFHS just completed the competition among employees to submit their best ideas in clinical applications for wearable technology. The institution not only encouraged employees to participate, but sweetened the pot by offering a total of $10,000 in prizes to winners of the contest.

Winning entries included:

*  A system designed to record and encourage mobility of acute care patients by using wearable activity trackers
*  A recovery tool for total hip replacement patients which monitors and limits range of motion to rehab by using wearable sensors
*  A health and wellness reminder system for elderly patients, leveraging location-based sensors and smart watches
*  A mobile game interface, powered by activity trackers, designed to encourage childhood exercise and fight obesity

Certainly, the employees must appreciate the cash prizes, but they told a Forbes reporter that they’d participate even if there were no prizes, because what they really enjoy is having the experience and access to the program. That’s a pretty telling indicator that simply appreciating their concepts goes a long way.

This contest comes as part of larger efforts to make the health system innovation friendly. “The most important word is yes,” said Nancy Schlichting, the system’s CEO in a Forbes interview. “It is difficult to create a culture of innovation. If you shut down one person to shut down everyone, because bad news travels fast. When it comes to innovation, my mantra is yes.”

Other efforts to encourage employee intrapreneurship include big rewards for success in product development. The HFHS intellectual property policy offers a 50% share of future revenues coming from product ideas that end up in the market. That’s a pretty impressive call to action for employees who might have a great idea in their hip pocket.

Yet a third way the health system encourages innovation is to bypass employees’ natural fear of failure by tapping into their desire to help people. By encouraging clinicians to focus on patient care improvements, for example, the system drew staff cardiologist Dr. Dee Dee Wang to create a breakthrough method for more accurately sizing artificial heart valves and planning trans-catheter surgeries using 3-D printed models from CT scans. (She worked with Dr. William O’Neill in this work.)

So if they can generate great innovations, why aren’t more health systems and hospitals launching programs like these?

I don’t think the direct cost of creating such a program is much of an obstacle, especially for a multi-hospital system. It may require hiring a senior exec to spearhead the effort, but that’s not a huge investment for entities that size.

My guess is that one reason they don’t move ahead is management bandwidth — that health leaders simply don’t feel they have the time, energy and focus to kick off such a program at the moment. But I also suspect that C-suite execs just haven’t given much thought to the untapped potential their employees have for creating incredible solutions to critical health care problems. Sadly, I suspect it’s more the latter than the former.