Texting in the hospital: Q&A with Doc Halo


Texting isn’t just for teens. Physicians love it, too. In this interview, Doc Halo’s COO, Cliff McClintick, answered my questions about doctors and texting.

Why do doctors like to text?

Physicians love to text because they already use the communication tool in their lives outside of work. Texting is convenient and makes sense in our digital world. And when physicians share information via text with nurses and other care providers, such as test results, medical notes and recommendations, errors are less likely to happen and patients receive more effective care.

What’s wrong with doctors using regular text messaging services from their mobile phone carriers?

Texting on commercial carrier platforms allows for fast communication but it is not secure and it violates privacy regulations spelled out in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. Patient health information and medical data must be protected. HIPAA requires privacy and security measures as it relates to the sending and sharing of patient health information.

Is text messaging essentially a workaround, or can it be part of a formal workflow?

An encrypted, secure text messaging system acts as a mobile portal clinicians use to talk with each other, share critical patient information and access medical data from anywhere.

Secure texting enables clinicians to interact with colleagues and patients using a communication format they are already comfortable with. Being able to send messages from the bedside means more time with patients. And when entire healthcare teams are on the same secure texting platform, physicians’ perceptions of in-hospital communication improve.

Is text messaging efficient?

Yes. Secure text messaging is a much more efficient means of communication. It allows physicians and their staff to avoid playing phone tag for much of their day. And unlike a phone call, secure texting allows users to go back to the message to review what was discussed. You can avoid phone tag using email, but it is not immediate, is often ignored, and lacks the real-time nature of texting.

A secure messaging system gives physicians access to on-call listings and provider directories. With the push of a button, physicians can make referrals and communicate about patient needs with other physicians within their network in real time.

Secure messaging saves time and money; adding up to millions of dollars saved a year for the average hospital. Secure texting eases the workflow slowdown that context switching causes as clinicians try to work within several different electronic systems.

How long before text messaging for doctors will become outdated?

Secure text messaging is just beginning to be adopted. In today’s environment, most physicians are using their smartphones in some way, whether to research medication interactions or to check a diagnosis. Among younger physicians – those under age 35 – 90 percent already use their smartphones at work, says a Kantar Media study.

Secure texting is No. 2 on a list of mobile health apps physicians say they will consider using in the next 12 months, according to a survey from MedData Group. Mobile access to electronic health records or an EHR was No. 1.

What role does your company play in text messaging?

Doc Halo provides encrypted HIPAA-compliant text messaging to the healthcare industry. This ensures that patient health information is secure. Our system is just as fast and easy as regular texting. Yet it is secure and it makes every physician in each client’s network accessible with the push of a button. This removes time wasted playing phone tag and makes physician referrals practically instantaneous.

Doc Halo was founded by two physicians who wanted to create mobile apps for healthcare by having physicians and technology experts work together. Dr. Jose Barreau and Dr. Amit Gupta are hematologists/oncologists with a keen interest in improving healthcare communications, especially among different physicians involved in a patient’s care. Better communication leads to better patient outcomes.

As smartphone use and health IT proliferates among healthcare professionals and the public, it is imperative that we continue to study the best ways to harness the power of these tools to improve physician workflows – and healthcare in general – in safe, secure and efficient ways.

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams of the Health Business Group


When it comes to investing, the eye has it

This is a guest post by life sciences entrepreneur Mikael Totterman

Eye on investing

Eye on investing

I was surprised by a recent Wall Street Journal article, which reported that venture capitalists are now investing more in the eyes than in any other organ. In 2013, VCs injected $850 million into eye-related startups, more than they invested in traditional areas such as the heart and orthopedics.

Intrigued, I attended the American Academy of Ophthalmology Annual Meeting in Chicago earlier this month. to learn more. In discussions with venture capitalists, industry thought leaders, and physicians, I heard four main explanations for the rush to invest in the eye:

  • Large and growing market with significant unmet needs
  • Lower reimbursement risk
  • Entrepreneurial and technology-friendly physicians
  • A favorable regulatory framework

Large and growing market with significant unmet needs

The eye disease segment of the ophthalmic market is driven directly by an aging population. This includes common conditions such as wet macular degeneration. It’s the leading cause of vision loss for Americans over 60, but treatment options are still quite limited. Eleven million Americans suffer from some form of macular degeneration today. That figure is expected to rise steadily to 22 million by 2050.

In addition to the disease-based market, refractive vision correction represents a significant market opportunity. The refractive correction market is very substantial with over 150 million individuals in the United States alone needing vision correction across a broad range of age groups. Historically, LASIK-related companies (both excimer and femtosecond lasers) have generated substantial returns for venture investors.

Lower reimbursement risk

Compared to other medical technology markets such as orthopedics and cardiology, the vision correction market is much less affected by reductions in insurance reimbursements. Procedures are generally paid for directly by patients, and top physicians can charge premium fees. Market dynamics are similar to the cosmetic surgery market, which has been an attractive opportunity for investors.

Entrepreneurial and technology-friendly physicians

Definitive data are scarce, but the impression I have is that the refractive surgeon market is an early adopter of technologies. Most refractive surgeons I met appear to be very open to trying new approaches and tools. This contrasts with other segments of the medical market, such as general practitioners, where adoption is slow.

Favorable regulatory framework

Most conference participants felt that the regulatory climate is improving. The FDA is providing clearer guidance into what is required to achieve regulatory approval. This is very favorable for investors who are considering putting their capital at risk.

While it’s impossible to predict the future, things seem to be looking up for ophthalmic investing and entrepreneurship. I intend to continue to track this market closely.

photo credit: Lucas Vieira Moreira via photopin cc

Is Partners HealthCare charting a new course? I’m quoted

I’m quoted in today’s front page Boston Globe article (Partners HealthCare chief met a trail of resistance), which dissects the tenure of outgoing Partners CEO, Gary Gottlieb. It should be no surprise that the continued expansion of the biggest and strongest healthcare system in Massachusetts under Gottlieb has led to friction and controversy.

The reporter asked me about whether a new CEO would change the company’s strategy. Here’s what I said:

Partners executives have said bolstering their network of hospitals is critical to coordinating patient care and keeping costs in check through more efficient care. Gottlieb’s successor and Partners’ board will have to decide whether to stick with that approach.

“The broad expansion, it’s not obvious that they need to do that,” said David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group, a Boston consulting firm. “Partners doesn’t need to expand at all and it would still be the biggest and strongest in the state.”

I suggested that Partners could decide to go back to its roots as a world-renowned academic medical center with its Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. There are other ways to coordinate care and control costs besides owning community hospitals and physician practices.

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams of the Health Business Group

Telehealth at Mercy Health: Podcast interview with CFO/EVP Strategy Shannon Sock

Shannon Sock, Mercy Health CFO & EVP of Strategy

Shannon Sock, Mercy Health CFO & EVP of Strategy

Today’s Center for Connected Health Symposium #cHealth14 featured a high-powered panel discussion with top executives from Wellpoint, American Well, and the VA along with Shannon Sock, CFO and EVP of Strategy at Mercy Health. The topic: Large Scale Connected Health Interventions –Lessons Learned.

After the panel, I sat down with Shannon to talk about Mercy’s 10-year journey in telehealth. The big, midwestern integrated delivery system has made telehealth a strategic priority since at least 2006. That commitment is ramping up further with the construction of a 120,000 square foot, $50 million virtual telehealth center, slated to open next year.

In this podcast interview Sock described Mercy’s telehealth approach and accomplishments as a first mover. He also touched on the challenges of getting his colleagues to approach telehealth as a strategic asset, the opportunity to diversify Mercy’s revenues by providing services to other systems, direct contracting with employers, and the exciting new possibilities of patient engagement arriving with Apple’s HealthKit and similar initiatives.

Sock also highlighted the competitive jockeying that’s taking place between health plans and large health systems. The plans are starting to insert themselves into primary care delivery (e.g., Wellpoint with American Well) while big systems are building the infrastructure that they hope will let employers bypass health plans entirely.

I would love to be the moderator for round 2 of this panel so we could dig into these competitive issues more directly.

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams of the Health Business Group


Innovation at Aetna: Podcast interview with Michael Palmer, Chief Innovation & Digital Officer

Michael Palmer, Aetna's Chief Innovation & Digital Officer

Michael Palmer, Aetna’s Chief Innovation & Digital Officer

Michael Palmer, Chief Innovation & Digital Officer at Aetna, will deliver a keynote address (Leading Innovation in a Connected World) tomorrow at the Partners Connected Health Symposium in Boston.

I caught up with him today to get his perspectives on the following topics:

  • What innovation means for Aetna and how that differs from what it means for small companies or other industries
  • The extent to which Aetna’s customers are seeking innovation vs. more prosaic factors such as reliability, consistency
  • How Aetna is partnering on innovative approaches in genomics, cancer care and other areas
  • What Aetna thinks it can bring to the consumer market to beat innovators such as Humana and Oscar Health

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams of the Health Business Group