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4 Ways Google Helpouts Could Impact HealthCare



Google Helpouts is creating a lot of buzz online.

It’s a tool where people can connect with, and get help from experts anywhere in the world via real-time, one-on-one video chat.

So for example if you’re preparing to go out on a date and need help putting on makeup like a pro, you would simply browse the Helpouts section under ‘Beauty and Fashion,’ find out what time the next professional make-up artist is available, schedule an appointment, pay a fee via Google Wallet, show up at scheduled time, and get the help you need!

Opportunities for Healthcare

Google Helpouts looks like a compelling alternative to the more traditional ‘in-person’ method of providing medical care.

Already there’s a small number of physicians who are early adopters – many are charging a small fee to give advice on a wide range of health issues including preventive health, cardiology, pediatrics, travel medicine and so on.

The swelling interest in Google Helpouts for healthcare suggests that there may be tremendous opportunities for the industry. Here are 4 ways Google Helpouts could impact healthcare.

1. Huge audience, quality care

While the idea of video consultations between doctors and patients isn’t new (think telemedicine) the difference is Google itself. Google has a way of drawing tons of eyeballs on anything it does so expect to see a lot of initial interest from providers, patients and other stakeholders in the industry.

Telemedicine has been widely credited with providing high-quality care (e.g. managing high-risk pregnancies) and driving healthcare costs down. While Google Helpouts aren’t meant to replace a user’s regular doctor, they still could be very helpful in certain situations, like when a doctor’s visit isn’t quite necessary yet the patient needs advice about a simple infection, or a cold, flu, skin rash etc.

2. Low cost of care

Google is taking a 20% cut from all other Helpouts except from health-related Helpouts (at least for now). This means that doctors can keep their consultation fee low since they don’t have to pass the cost on to patients.

I checked to see how much doctors are charging and the average fee is about $2 or $3 per minute. I even came across one doctor who’s helping out for free – he has several outstanding reviews! If Google Helpouts can help to keep the cost of healthcare down, then this might be a real game-changer in the industry.

3. HIPAA compliant

Google went out of their way to make sure that Helpouts are HIPAA-compliant. That means they have some big plans for healthcare. But for now, providers and physicians can use Helpouts with full confidence, knowing that sensitive patient information will not fall into the wrong hands.

Problem is, people are still queasy about revealing personal information online. They will not be comfortable talking about really sensitive medical issues. If Google could put this privacy problem to bed once and for all, then things could really start to get interesting.

4. Multi-lingual capabilities?

The linguistic diversity of American society already presents major communication challenges in doctor-patient interactions. In fact many providers and health centers have to pay for translation services for patients who don’t speak English.

If Google were to introduce a multi-lingual dimension to Helpouts or at least find a way to attract more bi-lingual doctors I can imagine what that might do for Spanish-speaking, or Mandarin-speaking patients, many of whom have a really tough time explaining their symptoms to their physicians.

Your Turn:

How do you see Google Helpouts impacting healthcare? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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Health IT Must Disrupt the Current Path of Health Disparities



The issue of health disparities in the U.S. should be a growing concern for everyone.

Despite the fact that we have the best doctors, nurses, hospitals and technology in the world, there are way too many Americans (mostly minorities) who suffer from preventable chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

And yet, it is precisely these groups with the highest burden of illness that are expected to grow the most, as a proportion of total U.S. population. So to put it in context, the future health of America as a whole will be shaped substantially by improving the health of these racial and ethnic minorities.

This is where technology comes in.

Research by Pew Internet Project shows that minorities are leading the way in the use of mobile and health information.

“The use of technology among minority communities has created an opportunity to disrupt the current trajectory of health disparities,” says Dr. Ivor Horn, pediatrician and researcher with a passion for technology.

In an article posted on Pulse and Signal, Dr. Horn observes that “while minorities are early adopters of mobile technology, and therefore best positioned to benefit from tech innovations in health care…there have been very few companies & initiatives developing tech services focused on these communities of color.”

This and similar conversations are long overdue. At next year’s SXSW Interactive Event a few thought leaders in healthcare and technology will be spreading the word about the opportunities for tech developers to tackle the issue of health disparities among minorities. (I must confess, it would have been great to see Dr. Juan Rivera – physician and Health IT innovator – among them).

I believe the time is ripe for tech developers to start getting actively involved in solving this problem. The only challenge I see (and it shouldn’t really be a problem!) is the need to customize some of these eHealth tools for cultural and perhaps even linguistic relevance in order to appeal to communities of color.

For a deeper perspective on this subject read the full article by Dr. Ivor Horn here.

What do you think?

How do you see tech developers helping to solve the problem of health disparities in the U.S.

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3 Unintended Consequences of Digital Health



Digital has become the lens through which we see the world.

Once, there was a separation between our ‘real-life’ activities i.e. what we did from 9-5, and our social activities i.e. what we did on evenings and weekends. The two rarely intersected.

But that line of separation has become blurred.

Today many of our in-person experiences (such as working, shopping, dining out, or watching TV) have leaked into the digital realm through sharing on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. For sure technology has changed the way we live.

Even healthcare is going in the same direction.

Perhaps this is best seen in people’s online health activities. Studies show that 85% of U.S. adults use the Internet, while 72% of this demographic say they look for health information online, presumably before seeing a doctor.

Mostly they’re searching for information related to their symptoms or specific medial condition, treatment options, hospitals, doctors, and other health professionals.

As a result the healthcare industry is responding to people’s needs and expectations for better communication and information by integrating digital technologies into their way of doing business.

The problem is, while e-health products and services are important in bringing about all the wonderful outcomes we keep hearing about:

  • Increased patient participation;
  • Improved care co-ordination;
  • Quality and convenience of patient care;
  • Healthcare efficiencies and cost savings;

…I believe that we might begin to see some unintended consequences of our near-total preoccupation with digital healthcare in the near future. Here are 3 of them:

#1. Isolation & Loss of Human Touch

Yes, patients need technology and progressive medical devices to manage their health. But they also need to be seen, listened to, and cared for (physically) by other people, including doctors, nurses and caregivers. Empathy and compassion – a warm smile, a kind word, or a re-assuring tone are equally important in bringing about health and wellness.

I worry that too much focus on digital healthcare, (and conversely too few in-person experiences between doctors and patients) might lead to feelings of isolation, remoteness and even doubt.

Patients who are more passive in nature may even resist the shift to greater personal responsibility and technology-based guidance. The result: They end up feeling like they don’t really have any support to manage their health.

#2. Marginalization of the Poor

While we can all agree that significant advantages are being realized through ehealth products and services, we also have to admit that these technologies mostly benefit those who have access to greater resources.

In fact a 2007 study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine warned that significant challenges must be addressed by the research community to assure that advances in e-health will help eliminate, not intensify health disparities.

I know it’s hard to believe, but there are many people in this country who don’t have access to the Internet, or even a home computer. How will e-health reach these people? The fact is, people or communities with limited access to digital technology are largely the same as those suffering the greatest health disparities and traditionally underserved by the healthcare system.

#3. Information overload

Today, patients are more empowered. They have access to information that can help them make better decisions about their health – in an ideal world.

But as the volume of personal health and wellness data from medical devices, smartphone apps, and even EMR’s increases, patients will be faced with information overload and some may find it hard to act upon.

For passive patients in particular, having too much information at their disposal might actually lead to inaction rather than action, because they’re used to simply following doctor’s orders. In addition to being sick they now have the added burden of figuring out what their health data means and what to do about it.

What do you think?

Is our society overly-optimistic about digital health or do you think there are real challenges ahead?

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How Google Glass Can Restore Eye Contact in the Exam Room



When patients invest so much time and money (even those who aren’t paying directly) to see a doctor, they really deserve eye-contact.

A recent study by eMarketer�shows that the average American spends more than five hours per day with their eyes glued to a computer or mobile screen. The growth of multi-tasking by way of technology has normalized the experience of conversing without eye contact – even in the exam room where life-and-death conversations are taking place!

It’s Like Texting While Driving

I don’t know about you, but I only get about 7 minutes with my doctor, twice a year at the most. It really doesn’t help if he’s working on the computer for half that time. And the problem will likely be worse with the implementation of Meaningful Use 2, which requires physicians to enter orders directly into the EHR.

Helen Greff writes an article on where she compares doctors’ use of EHRs during a patient visit to�texting while you’re driving. I couldn’t agree more. Patients feel ignored and disrespected when doctors don’t look at them. What’s more I think there are many non-verbal signs that doctors often miss when they’re not looking directly at a patient.

Trust Matters

Why is this important? Because doctors who maintain eye-contact with patients are deemed to be more likeable and more empathetic according to a study by Northwestern Medicine. If patients feel like their doctors don’t care, they’re less likely to return to that doctor or take their advice – both very costly consequences for the healthcare system.

Google Glass to the rescue

That’s why I think Google Glass looks promising in solving this problem.�Already there’s�research�being done to see how effective this technology could be in enhancing surgical procedures.

The same concept could be applied to doctor-patient interactions in the exam room. Wearing the device, the doctor would be able to access and update a patient’s vital records. For example a dermatologist could easily take a picture of a patient’s mole using Glass, compare it to a database of skin cancers, and determine the risk for melanoma, all without having to turn away and lose eye-contact with the patient.

Visual tools are part of the future of digital technology so it only makes sense that Google Glass would be integrated with EHRs. If a technology like Google Glass helps to foster a more collaborative partnership between doctor and patient then it’s certainly worth implementing. It may not be for everyone but in the right setting it could be incredibly useful. Don’t you think?

Over to You

Do you see a bright future for Google Glass and EHR integration?

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