Keeping it real, in a world of med-tech marvels

Where it's needed most: The more physician (and patient) input that goes into medical-device research, the better, says healthcare insider Terry Lynam.

Healthcare embraces constantly evolving tools and processes to help those who are sick and vulnerable – and to continue fulfilling this purpose, we need technology companies and venture capital firms to understand and appreciate our mission and business models.

Healthcare-related technologies and product concepts would often benefit if their developers had a better handle on real-world applications. Hospitals are ecosystems of humanity’s highs, lows and in-betweens – all day, every day. On the other hand, I’ve visited tech offices where I could drive a bus down the hallway and rarely see a soul.

When tech companies and VCs talk about “customer experience,” they usually mean “user experience” – people interacting with a digital product. That’s far removed from our world, which often involves sitting beside someone who’s vulnerable and worried about test results.

Electronic Health Records exemplify a promising everyday tool that continues to leave clinicians grasping for a better alternative. Patients don’t like them because the platforms that promised to better facilitate care don’t “talk to each other.” And their cumbersome user interfaces are the bane of many clinicians and support staffers.

Now, Chicago-based IT company Allscripts is building its next EHR iteration – and Northwell Health physicians are providing input on its development, so it integrates into real-world practice. It’s a promising initiative.

Terry Lynam: A (real) world of opportunity.

Most proposals for digital healthcare products target relatively young, tech-savvy, healthy people. Yet the bulk of U.S. medical costs can be attributed to chronic illness and those nearing the end of life.

Factoring in the indirect costs of lost economic productivity, the annual financial impact of chronic diseases in the United States is $3.7 trillion, about a fifth of our GDP. Technology that benefits thirtysomethings won’t make a dent in that. But digital solutions for chronic conditions of the aged, the mentally ill and substance abusers will.

I know this approach can yield success because I’ve seen it happen. For example, Northwell infection-control specialists collaborated with the developer of PurpleSun to refine its ultraviolet-light technology to enhance disinfection in operating rooms and other healthcare environments, which could help reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections.

After the technology was piloted in our ORs, Northwell’s head of infection prevention published peer-reviewed journal studies documenting their efficacy. PurpleSun is now being used in three Northwell hospitals, and is being evaluated by others that view the technology as a valuable tool for strengthening patient safety. “Infection control” are not Silicon Valley buzzwords.

Front-line clinicians know that patients often don’t follow up with their prescriptions for lab work, despite their potential significance in determining treatment. So Northwell Health Labs is deploying a disruptive model – pioneered by the likes of GrubHub and Lyft – in LabFly, an app designed to encourage compliance and improve outcomes. Available for download on Android and Apple devices, LabFly lets you arrange blood draws at home or in the office.

Our national healthcare system offers immeasurable opportunity to technology companies. But only boots-on-the-ground insights into the actual workings of healthcare can truly unlock them.

Terry Lynam is a senior vice president at Northwell Health, New York State’s largest healthcare provider and private employer.