eMed and Hollywood A-Lister to Partner on Campaign to Enable Americans with Access to At-Home Testing and Therapeutics
The annual Consumer Electronics Show being held this week in Las Vegas is typically a showcase for the flashiest and most ahead-of-the-curve technology innovations. Tech-adjacent companies — from automotive giants and financial services firms — often jostle elbows to win starring roles, but until now no health care company had ever provided a keynote speaker.
That streak will be broken this year when Robert Ford of Abbott Laboratories, which manufactures a common rapid COVID-19 test, takes the stage to discuss digital health, along with Dr. Patrice Harris, the prior president of the American Medical Association and co-founder, CEO of digital healthcare company eMed. Digital health is the combination of healthcare and technological advances including sensors, connectivity, and AI that supplements and improves healthcare and healthcare access. While digital health isn’t new, the pandemic has dramatically increased the adoption and utilization.
The unrealized potential of digital health still vastly outweighs our accomplishments in the field to date. In 2022, commercial innovators, providers and governments alike must seize the unique opportunity to take digital health innovations to the next level, transforming and democratizing healthcare in lasting ways.
The first thing is to update our vision of why we use digital health tools in the first place. Given the speedy deregulation efforts and massive shift to digital health platforms that occurred early in the pandemic, it's tempting to think that the goal is to use digital health care services as a temporary substitute for ordinary in-person services. But that is only scratching the surface.
Digital health offers value over and above comparable in-person services. This is no clearer than in the present case of the pandemic, when the best way to get care is not always walking straight into a provider's facility or doctor's office. If a suspected COVID-19 patient has mild symptoms, it would be better for both the patient and the general public if that person uses a verified test from home, and receives consultation and treatment from home without stepping foot in a doctors office or hospital unless necessary. In this case, digital health is not just a replacement for ordinary clinic visits, but is actually an improvement — a better tool for addressing and overcoming the pandemic.
Embracing this shift is beneficial for population health far beyond COVID-19. There are numerous conditions and illnesses for which the model of an at-home test plus virtual consultation and treatment is more beneficial for all parties: think flu cases, strep, UTIs and even future pandemics. No parent should need to spend hours bringing their child to a physician to get a strep test if, instead, they could reliably perform the test at home under telehealth proctored supervision and use the verified positive result to get a prescription from their pediatrician. Similarly, with COVID-19, like influenza, speed is of the essence to benefit from treatment. If treatment is not initiated within a few days, benefit is lost. The number one barrier to starting treatment early is delays in obtaining the clinical diagnosis. Rapid COVID and flu tests, pre-positioned in the home for when they are needed (like Band-Aids or Advil), and enabled to be used in a verified, authenticated manner can allow people to wake up with symptoms and have prescription medicine dropped out their front door in hours, enabling start of treatment days earlier and with great benefit to reduce hospitalizations. Digital health is not a silver bullet, but we will be leaving lifesaving value on the table if we don't double down on these innovations and make them a permanent part of our healthcare ecosystem.
Digital health innovations also shift the balance of power between patient and provider. For thousands of years, the practice of healthcare has involved the sick masses seeking care from the limited few — the highly trained and scarce medical professionals like physicians. Digital health flips that power balance to bring new care options to the masses, no matter where they are located.
With this shift, quality will not be lost. Over 80% of all healthcare decisions are made based on a diagnostic test. With the explosion of new highly accurate tests are being developed for the home and with novel approaches to have reliable and authenticated use of the tests, these tools will compliment and enable access to high quality healthcare.
This is a revolution in accessibility and affordability and a move that meets people where they are. Testing centers which require people to drive, fill out extensive paperwork and pay out of pocket are inefficient. Testing that uses digital health to streamline the process of ordering and conducting a test that seamlessly integrates into follow-up care for those who need it has the ability to bring top, accessible care to anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection.
Digital health can also be leveraged to close the equity gaps in the healthcare industry. Because the pandemic exacerbated the existing inequities in healthcare access, many of our pandemic response measures were just as inequitable. But by catalyzing new digital health tools, methods and norms, the pandemic has driven us to create solutions that can change the equation to provide equitable access to healthcare.
In the near future, in-person healthcare visits will be used for those cases for which virtual connection is insufficient; meanwhile, digital health will provide new and old forms of care with maximum convenience and cost savings, ushering in incredible improvements in population health and healthcare equity.