In my last article, I reviewed some cool health sensor gadgets. Sensors that don’t just track our steps and our breathing, but they make sure our hearts stay beating. That’s the kind of thing that can save some people’s lives.
All this data is useless if it doesn’t get to doctors. I can have the most advanced medical technology in the world, but without the skill of a practicing physician, I can’t make anything of it. Even the most advanced medical AI can’t make diagnoses without physician overview, after all; clinical AI on its own is typically less accurate than a physician diagnosis. It’s only earlier this year that AI got a better test on medical practitioner exams than actual doctors.
How do we get all this information to doctors?
Right now, the most popular option is through patient portals. According to Wikipedia, “Patient portals are healthcare-related online applications that allow patients to interact and communicate with their healthcare providers, such as physicians and hospitals.”
In my experience, a patient portal is a lot like a portal for a university or a place of employment; you log in to a dated Oracle-based system on a desktop environment (or perhaps a mobile app, if they’re ahead of the curve) and use their interface to enter information. It isn’t a smooth process, and there certainly isn’t any integration with health sensors.
Some platforms that link physicians and patient’s sensors, but they’re sensor specific. For instance, the Eko DUO health sensor has an app for physicians that allows them to share data, but that’s the only thing that app does — heart data. Both Apple’s HealthKit and Google Fit collect data about the whole body but don’t have a smooth way of sharing that data with doctors.
While that covers a lot of people, it doesn’t cover those with incomes too low to have the tech or people who are not able to learn how (such as the sick and elderly). The ones it doesn’t cover are (in my amateur estimation) the people most likely to need this. Even those it does cover never get the benefits if they never download these apps, which many don’t. This is to say nothing of patients with doctors in different networks than one another, or of patients who do a lot of travel and see different doctors. Between a lack of solutions and a lack of adoption, most people are missed.
This part of healthcare suffers from the same problem that the rest of healthcare does — it doesn’t have interoperability.
As an individual, you can solve this problem by taking the time to set up a network of information sharing amongst your doctors. But people who need this kind of information sharing amongst multiple doctors are precisely the people who can’t set it up because they are busy being sick. Also, this doesn’t scale well for doctors — two or three complicated cases adds two or three different networked systems they have to manage. It’s better than passing stacks of paper back and forth, but it’s hardly ideal.
For their part, Apple and Google have taken steps to solve this problem with Fit and HealthKit. While they have considerable reach, they can’t do the job of getting data to the physicians for the physicians. Yes, some solutions have been implemented, but no solution is as easy as the solutions with which we’re getting all this data in the first place.
So in short, that’s the problem: There is all this data from wearables on people’s phone in HealthKit and Google Fit, but doctors don’t see any of it.