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Why the iPhone and Tele-Technology May Be Healthcare’s New Heroes

On an unseasonably cold afternoon in October, I hurried down 71st Street en route to an important professional conference and determined to make the Express bus to Riverdale. Running late I pushed my way through a noisy crowd gathered outside Marymount Manhattan College only to become entangled in the middle of a fight between two angry young men. I felt a sharp shove. My head spinning, my chin hit the pavement sharply and made a loud thump. When I got to my feet, a small unsympathetic crowd had formed.

“You’re bleeding.” 

“Do I need stitches?”

A figure shrugged. “I don’t think so.  It doesn’t look that bad.”

My chin oozing something dark and wet, my face bruised, the uncomfortable ride to Riverdale seemed like forever. I dabbed my chin with tissues but the bleeding didn’t stop. When I got home, it was 10 pm. I was still bleeding. It was eerily quiet and dark, quite atypical for a fall city night. I ventured outside and bucking the cold howling winds, walked to New York Presbyterian’s Emergency Room.

Inside the hospital, patients clustered in the waiting room, nurses, faceless doctors and lab techs rushed around. I was transferred to different treatment rooms to be checked and then left to wait for a long time in a cold hallway.

Finally, a Physician’s Assistant administered a few stitches and discharged me. It was 5 a.m.

Visiting the Emergency Room at NewYork-Presbyterian is now a different story. Doctors may not always be visible but they ‘re present: talking to patients from distant rooms while working intently at their computers.

Far from being rude and/or a violation of codes of professional conduct, telecommunications technologies like videoconferencing and iPhones are the rising stars of healthcare. These treatment tools and important links between doctors and patients have streamlined emergency room treatment, making care practical or even feasible.

Dr. Rahul Sharma is Emergency Physician-in-Chief for NY Presbyterian-Weill Cornell and Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine. He oversees academic and operational activities for an emergency room that treats 130,000+ patients a year.

Sharma also runs the hospital’s ED Telehealth Express Care program, Initially a pilot program introduced last summer, Express Care allows doctors to treat patents not critically injured from remote locations – via videoconferencing.

The goal: reducing waiting times and treating patients who don’t need urgent care: getting patients in and out of emergency rooms efficiently. Financial difficulties have shuttered many hospitals.

Says Dr. Sharma, “emergency rooms are getting more and more crowded with longer wait times as the population grows and as we’ve given more people more access to insurance. The number of people coming for ER visits continues to rise. At the same time, more ERs have closed, which has caused a decrease in the number of facilities which puts more pressure on the ones that remain functioning.”

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To date, more than 3000 patients, have participated, giving the experience mostly positive reviews.

Patients are triaged by nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants. Patients presenting with non-critical conditions – like flu-like symptoms, minor cuts or sprains– are given the option of Express Care: they can consult with an ER physician via video conference with another healthcare practitioner on hand to assist or conduct procedures.

Since the program launched, patient wait times have dropped dramatically.

Does this jeopardize quality of care? Not according to Dr. Sharma. “The triage system is very strict. We can’t compromise quality of care but our use of technology has revolutionized healthcare. We’re able to provide high quality healthcare.”

NYP’s new “OnDemand” program relies on mobile and web technology to save time, provide patients with greater convenience, and facilitate greater communication between doctors and patients. The mobile app allows ER patients to communicate, via cell phone or the web, with doctors, schedule appointments, and get specialist referrals for a nominal annual fee.

BetterPT is not just a company, it’s an app that promises better quality and convenience for physical therapy patients who will be able to find clinics in their area, view ratings, book appointments, and pay – all from the convenience of their phones.

NY Presbyterian is the country’s first major medical facility to use videoconferencing in the ER. But many other medical providers have since jumped on the bandwagon. Mobile apps cut costs and save time; others dramatically improve patient outcomes.

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Greg Peters, with 15 years of health and fitness experience in health and fitness. partnered with Dr. Stephen Fealy, a prominent orthopedic surgeon affiliated with NY’s Hospital for Special Surgery. Together they founded a company, betterPT, Inc., that they say will revolutionize the physical therapy industry. The company manufactures a mobile app coming out this fall.

Physical therapy is a $ 35 billion dollar industry and, with an aging population and substantial improvements in surgical outcomes, is forecast to grow 6.8% to approximately $ 42 billion by 2020. But, says Peters, the industry “is also very antiquated.”

BetterPT is not just a company, it’s an app that promises better quality and convenience for physical therapy patients who will be able to find clinics in their area, view ratings, book appointments, and pay – all from the convenience of their phones. Patients can also access treatment history and other information needed for insurance reimbursement.

There’s also an in-app messaging feature. Patients can communicate directly with doctors, bypassing gatekeepers like secretaries and primary care physicians who have traditionally delayed care.

Thus far, betterPT now has 140 locations in the northeast and 400 outpatient rehab clinics on its radar and the network is growing.

Other new companies are not just offering convenience but promising better clinical outcomes. According to CNBC, ChemoWave launched their app for chemotherapy patients this summer. Patients record their symptoms, exercise time, water intake and medications daily; the app graphs the data and reports it to doctors daily. According to medical studies, tracking this information can produce a 21% increase in cancer survival.

With technology’s movers and shakers like Amazon and Apple turning their brightest minds and boundless innovations to redesign how healthcare is delivered, mobile technology is likely to deliver more than practicality and convenience. The new technology may ring in solutions to what seemed insurmountable problems.

Lisa Stahl

Lisa Stahl, a native New Yorker, has authored many articles that graced the cover pages of magazines and websites. She’s the author of two distance-learning courses on fashion and has contributed substantial research and content on politics and foreign policy to three books by a political analyst and adviser to Hillary Clinton. Lisa’s achievements include an MA in English with honors from Columbia University. She also studied piano at Juilliard.

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