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Use the Technology We Have Now and Save Lives

Connected health advocates have long struggled to create a standardized definition of what this emerging field of “connected health” includes. Given the pace of change in healthcare, I have often joked that by the time we figure out what the term means, it won’t matter anymore, because we’ve moved on to the next big thing.

The vision of connected health

While said tongue-in-cheek, the truth is that our efforts to define connected health may be misplaced. Using technology to gather data and information to facilitate better, collaborative decision making by patients and providers should not be a new or separate kind of healthcare. It should just be healthcare, with technology-empowered patients and shared decision-making being the new normal.

If we accept this vision, then HIMSS17 marked a significant milestone for connected health. Whether walking the exhibition floor or scanning the educational sessions at HIMSS17, I found connected health content embedded in a wide array of topics.

I, for one, saw connected health showcased in several education sessions ranging from:

  • Innovation
  • Population health  
  • Leadership  
  • Cybersecurity 

Deeply integrated into exhibits on the show floor, connected health included EHR vendors showing strategies for connecting patients as well as one major technology vendor and university jointly advertising a “Connected Health Interoperability Platform.” While it is certainly too early to declare victory, we have come a long way regarding acceptance of these technologies in the last few years.

For me, the most encouraging evidence of change appeared in the maturity of questions attendees asked on the role connected technologies play in healthcare.

A few years ago, questions focused on general topics:

  • Will this thing work?
  • What if we bought X?

Attendees at HIMSS17 asked for specific information in their queries:

  • How do I match unsolicited data from patients with their record?
  • How does connected health fit into MACRA/MIPS?

Connected health and long-term, post-acute care

I was encouraged by the interest in connected health, and what was for me, an “unexpected” segment of the market: the long-term / post-acute care (LTPAC) and aging services providers. Impressive discussions also included deep conversations around the growing role of APIs in connected health connectivity, benefits and challenges resulting from the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), and security challenges across all these systems.

A shift in focus for the broad connected health community

This wider interest in connected health poses some new challenges and requires a shift in focus for the broad connected health community. Connected health has always focused on innovation due to its close association with mobile phones and other consumer technology. However, if we want connected health to succeed as a transformative force in healthcare, rather than just being a cool idea, we also need a focus on how to make things work and not just on new technology.

In 2010, I spoke, with my co-presenter Dr. George Crooks, medical director of NHS 24, Scotland's national telehealth and telecare organization, at a healthcare conference in Brussels about emerging themes in connected health. In our  presentation, "Developments in Connected Health on Both Sides of the Pond,” I discussed blood pressure monitoring, heart failure, and diabetes programs I was involved in, while Dr. Crooks discussed a program to make medical histories available to ambulance crews and to make vitals from the ambulance ride available to emergency room physicians.

At the end of his presentation, Dr. Crooks said something to the largely corporate audience that still rings loudly in my head:

It's not about the next big thing," he said. "If we could successfully deploy the technology we already have, we'd save millions of lives a year.

Are you integrating connected health technologies into your organization? The HIMSS Connected Health Committee and Community will focus on addressing many of the practical questions about integrating connected health into clinical practice in the coming months.

Will you join us? Visit the Connected Health Community page and click on the “Join the Connected Health Community!” link at the bottom of the page.