Digital health can prevent medical errors, save lives and reducing costs

8 February 2017
Digital health tools can ensure that healthcare providers get the information when and where they need it, in- or outside the hospital setting, as van Houten explains. That, he says, will go a long way toward preventing the incorrect diagnosis, wrong medication or missing piece of information that can mean the difference between life and death. “We need to connect all of the different caregivers in these different silos from diagnosis to treatment,” he says.

An active member

Van Houten took part in the 5th Annual World Patient Safety, Science & Technology Summit, a conference that featured, among others, former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Joe Biden and a host of political, healthcare and technology leaders. Philips Healthcare is an active member of the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, launched in 2012 by medical device maker Masimo to bring technology to bear to prevent medical errors.

Medical errors are the cause of more than 250.000 deaths yearly in the US. Many of those errors are caused by a lack of access to information. Healthcare providers need to have access to all data at the point of care. Only then can they make an accurate diagnosis and begin a proper care management plan. And they need it on the mobile device of their choosing.

Banner Health

Van Houten points out the fact that Philips recently signed a 15-year contact with the Arizona-based 28-hospital health system Banner Health and unveiled results from a home-based telehealth program, launched in 2013, that targets some of the health system’s most complex and expensive patients.

According to Banner Health officials, the Ambulatory Intensive Care (AIC) program has helped healthcare providers stay in touch with and treat these patients at home, cutting hospitalizations and the number of days in the hospital by almost 50 percent and reducing costs by almost 35 percent.

“We have been able to make significant improvements with our most complex patients over long periods of time, and the results can potentially be applied to better manage the health of other patient populations,” Deb Dahl, Banner Health’s vice president of patient care innovation, said in a press release.

Monitor sleep

According to van Houten, Philips is also interested in telehealth platforms that monitor sleep. Philips is one of several healthcare companies to use remote monitoring technology to analyze a patient’s sleep patterns at home, instead of in a hospital or lab. By working with providers to study a patient’s sleep patterns at home, the company is looking for new insights into treatments for everything from COPD to behavioural health issues like PTSD.

“From restless nights to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), sleep disorders of varying degrees have become a common occurrence across many patient and consumer populations,” says Mark Aloia, MD, senior director of Global Clinical Research for Philips’ Respironics division. “With so many options in sleep therapy, technology can now offer solutions to help monitor and support healthy sleep.”

But that’s not all. All of that data can be fed into artificial intelligence and analytics engines that spot trends and predict outcomes. With those tools, it’s possible to spot a diabetic patient’s hypoglycemia attack before it happens, giving caregivers the opportunity to intervene and prevent the attack. “It’s a great advantage to be able to look forward in time rather than backward in time,” van Houten says. “That is what mHealth can offer.”

Van Houten also claims that mHealth and telehealth turn the patient in an active partner in their healthcare process. A more engaged patient, he says, will work with doctors and nurses to create a better care plan that cuts down on errors and guesswork. “We believe that patients will be more accountable for their own health if you give them feedback,” he says. “We want to give them access to data and support them.”

It costs money

But this also creates challenges. Van Houten says healthcare providers have to understand that these changes are and will be disruptive. “This will require change management and integration across all workstations and providers,” he says. “This is an investment,” he says. “This may cost money, but (the cost of) an adverse event is far more expensive.”

This is why the Patient Safety Movement Foundation exists. Organizers are hoping to create a groundswell for data sharing and change management that will compel reluctant companies to take part. More than 60 mHealth companies have signed a pledge to contribute de-identified information to the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, including IBM Watson, Medtronic, GE Healthcare, Cerner, Airstrip and Phillips Healthcare. Healthcare providers don’t join the organization but they promise to commit to efforts to reduce medical errors. Medtronic joined the movement last November, and pledged $5 million to the effort.

“By signing this Open Data Pledge, Medtronic pledges to allow access to all available acute clinical data generated by their products used in hospitals and in outpatient practice settings to interested parties that want to use them to help minimize preventable patient complications and death,” the Ireland-based company said in a press release. “When companies share the data of their products, it provides researchers and entrepreneurs with critical information to develop and accelerate solutions to improve patient care. This information includes predictive algorithms that can notify clinicians and patients of possible dangerous trends – allowing for intervention earlier.”

Van Houten says the ultimate goal of the foundation is to “make care more personal and more effective.” mHealth and telehealth technology, he says, can not only knock down silos, but create platforms where patients and doctors work together more closely. In that kind of environment, mistakes will become far less common.