The Future of Medicine and Virtual Assistants

Virtual Assistants help Doctors Increase ProductivityIn Will Mobile ‘Virtual Assistants’ Propel the Future of Medicine?, the author portrays mHealth and virtual assistants as time savers for practitioners, but I take a different view and commented on his article, mentioning an important new documentary (see below).

He said …

With this evolution of mobility in mind, I’ve been thinking a lot about what a mobile “virtual assistant” could mean for clinicians. In today’s health care setting, far too much clinician time is spent on administrative tasks that, while important, pales in comparison to the significance of their main job duty — ensuring the health and well-being of actual people. But what if we could help clinicians tackle administrative and other day-to-day duties by enlisting the power of a fleet of mobile virtual assistants that: help clinicians simplify interactions and address data-entry headaches with electronic health records (EHRs); provide real-time insight on the next patient, including vital signs and medications; or even prompt them for more information when the record does not contain the level of detail needed to ensure first-rate care?

(Jonathon Dryer is Director of Mobile Marketing for Nuance Communications).

I said …

I’m a big fan of mHealth but don’t think the objective of virtual assistants should be to increase productivity so practitioners can see more patients in less time, even though that’s how they’re paid.

I believe the future of a quality, efficient health care system rests on our ability to replace our pay-for-procedure disease management system with a focus instead on wellness & prevention. If mHealth helps deliver that, then great, and we can save over $1 trillion per year in the process. But the big money in medicine – the insurers, pharma, device manufacturers, and hospitals – will fight to keep their revenues flowing. That’s why I encourage readers to watch the important new documentary, “Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue America’s Healthcare(trailer below), which aired for free on CNN and is now available in theaters and for paid download. Join the fight.

Escape Fire Stats & Quotes …

  • “We’re in the grip of a very big industry, and it doesn’t want to stop making money.”
  • $1.1 billion was spent on healthcare lobbying between 2009 & 2010.
  • The US spent $2.7 trillion on healthcare in 2011, more than any other wealthy nation, but we have worse outcomes.
  • The average American hospital visit costs $1,666 per day, which is four times more than in the rest of the world.
  • The average cost of a drug-eluding stent procedure is $40,000, while the average cost of one session of cardiac rehab is just $100.
  • A doctor who spends 5 min to install a stent in a clogged artery may earn $1,500, but if she spent 45 min talking with the patient about how to avoid such conditions, she’d only earn about $15.
  • Our average lifespan is ranked 50th among OECD nations.
  • Only 1 in 16,000 Americans per year have had their lives saved or extended by advances in healthcare technology.
  • It’s not just the health of grandma at stake, or even the health of the healthcare system; it’s also the very health of the nation.
  • The cost of American healthcare is rising so fast that it is projected to reach $4.2 trillion (~20% of GDP) within six years.
  • The average per capita cost of healthcare in the developed world is about $3,000 a year, while the average in the US is about $8,000 annually. Who pays for that? We all pay, and it comes from funds that could be better used elsewhere.
  • 75% of healthcare costs go to treating chronic diseases that are largely preventable.
  • The industry sees More as better, and provides more, because that’s how it makes money. We pay hospitals to be full, so they try to be full. We pay doctors to see patients, so they try to see lots of patients.
  • Fee-for-Service rewards physicians for doing more, not for providing better care or eliminating the need.
  • Primary care physicians earn about half as much as specialists.
  • Our Disease-care system doesn’t want you to die, but it doesn’t really want you to get well either. It wants you to keep coming back as a paying customer for treatment of your chronic illness. In fact, many public policies, including those affecting the food supply and the environment, actually increase disease.
  • We spend $300 billion a year on pharmaceuticals, which is almost as much as the rest of the world combined. And we take 10 times more meds now than in the 1950’s.
  • Half of network TV ads now are for various drugs. The only other country that allows consumer drug ads is New Zealand. The ads always end with the same phrase, “Ask your doctor.” People do, and the docs comply.
  • People eat what’s cheap and what’s available, but the bigger cost comes from treating the result of eating cheap (and unhealthy) food. If trends continue through 2020, 20% of healthcare spending, or up to $1 trillion, will be spent on obesity related conditions.
  • Almost 40% of US hospitals offer fast food restaurants on their premises.
  • Insurance companies have been able to increase premiums at will, and since 1999 the cost of employer-sponsored insurance premiums has increased four times faster than salaries. If other prices had grown as quickly as healthcare costs since 1945, a dozen eggs would cost $55, a gallon of milk would cost $48, and a dozen oranges would cost $134.
  • “Medicine used to be about healing, but when it became a business, we lost our moral compass, and it became about profit.”
  • In July 2012, GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) agreed to plead guilty for failing to disclose safety data on Avandia, the world’s most popular diabetes drug, as part of a $3 billion settlement. The federal lawsuit was filed after the drug was linked to heart risks, and prosecutors said the company had paid doctors and manipulated medical research to promote the drug. But the settlement amount is less than the annual revenue from the drug, a slap on the hand or an acceptable cost of doing business, and no one went to jail.

Click here for our extensive list of other healthcare stats.

2 thoughts on “The Future of Medicine and Virtual Assistants

  1. I heard back from Nuance, the company who is working on the Virtual Assistants that were described in the Huffington Post article, and I paraphrase their response here.

    Making more time for the physician isn’t about seeing more patients, it’s about reducing the time spent face-to-face with a computer vs. face-to-face with the patient. More so, we’re looking into specific ways virtual assistants can aid patients – medication adherence, behavior modification, usability of patient portals. While not the end all, be all solution to “fix” healthcare, virtual assistants hold a lot of promise for streamlining the complexities of care for patients and providers alike.

    Their different viewpoint depends on how the increased productivity is used. By spending less time using a computer for administrative tasks, more time is available for other activities. That “could” be applied to more face-to-face time with patients, but our current fee-for-service healthcare system adds no compensation for that. Instead, doctors are encouraged to see more patients and perform more procedures, because that’s how they’re paid. They may want to spend more time with each patient, but until the incentives change they are unlikely to do so and are on track to spend less time with patients.

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