Robots, robots, everywhere…even when they’re NHS 111 online algorithms

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Overrun-by-Robots1-183×108.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]The NHS continues to grope its way towards technology adoption, gets slammed–but is it justified? The Daily Telegraph (paywalled–see The Sun) revealed a draft December NHS report that recommended that the NHS 111 urgent non-emergency care line’s “enquiries will be handled by robots within two years.” Moreover, “The evaluation by NHS England says smartphones could become “the primary method of accessing health services,” with almost 16 million inquiries dealt with by algorithms, rather than over the telephone, by 2020.” (That is one-third of demand, with one-quarter by 2019.)

Let’s unpack these reported statements.

  • An algorithm is not a ‘robot’. This is a robot.[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/robottoy-1.jpg” thumb_width=”100″ /]
  • What is so surprising about using algorithmically based questions for quick screening? Zipnosis in the US has been using this method for years as a pre-screener in major health systems. They call it an ‘online adaptive interview’ guiding the patient through branching logic of relevant questions; a provider can review the provided clinical note and make a diagnosis and treatment recommendation in 2 minutes. It also captures significant data before moving to an in-person or telemedicine visit if needed. Babylon Health uses a similar methodology in its chatbot-AI assisted service [TTA 26 Apr 17].
  • Smartphones as a primary means of accessing health services? How is this surprising when the Office of National Statistics says that 73 percent of adults use the internet from their mobiles? 51 percent go online for health information.
  • Based on the above, 66 percent would still be using telephonic 111 services.

It seems like when the NHS tries to move forward technologically, it’s criticized heavily, which is hardly an incentive. Over New Year’s, NHS 111 had a 20 percent unanswered call rate on its busiest day when the flu epidemic raged (Sun). Would an online 111 be more effective? Based on the four-location six-month test, for those under 35, absolutely. Yes, older people are far less likely to use it, as undoubtedly (but unreported) the disabled, sight-impaired, the internet-less, and those who don’t communicate in English well–but the NHS estimates that the majority of 111 users would still use the phone. This also assumes that the online site doesn’t crash with demand, and that the algorithms are constructed well.

Not that the present service has been long-term satisfactory. David Doherty at mHealth Insight/3G Doctor takes a 4G scalpel to its performance and offers up some alternatives, starting with scrapping 111.

Equivocal long term telemonitoring studies released by Telemonitoring NI, U. of Wisconsin

The HSC Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland and Queen’s University Belfast have released an evaluation of the six-year (2011 – 2017) Remote Telemonitoring Service for Northern Ireland (RTNI). The Centre for Connected Health and Social Care (CCHSC) launched the Telemonitoring NI project in 2011, which enrolled over 3,900 patients with COPD, diabetes, weight management, stroke, heart failure and kidney problems in both telehealth (vital sign) and telecare (behavioral) monitoring. The study period was through 2015, but the program continues to be implemented by all five NI Health and Social Care (HSC) Trusts across a range of chronic conditions. 

The Northern Ireland findings were at best equivocal. While the qualitative data gathered from patient, carer, and clinician focus groups and interviews were positive in terms of engagement and on reassurance–to be able to carry on with their lives as usual–the quantitative data did not confirm gains in effective care.

Although there were a number of testimonials from the participants in the patient focus groups regarding
reduced hospitalisations and a reduced need to attend outpatient clinics, this did not carry through to
the data obtained in the effectiveness aspect of the current evaluation. In general terms, the number
of hospitalisations, length of hospital stay and outpatient clinic attendance (and therefore overall cost
of healthcare provision) did not differ between the quasi-control ‘never installed’ group and any of the
groups who received some amount of telemonitoring. The results, where they were statistically
significant, were largely driven by an anomalous result for the heart failure ‘never installed’ group. (page 17)

The Executive Summary, Telehealth, and Telecare Reports are available for free download on the HSC R&D Division website. Many thanks to former TTA Ireland Editor Toni Bunting for the information, summary, and researching the previous TTA coverage below.

This is the second discouraging study on the long term effectiveness of patient monitoring released in the past month. A five-year, 140,000 patient/90 provider study conducted by the University of Wisconsin found that giving patients the option of telemedicine, instead of being more convenient for the provider, created new issues. It increased office visits by six percent, added 45 minutes per month of additional visit time to practices, and reduced the number of new patients seen each month by 15 percent. For the patient, the researchers found “no observable improvement in patient health between those utilizing e-visits and those who did not. In fact, the additional office visits appear to crowd out some care to those not using e-visits.” The study suggested that the telemedicine visits could be made more effective by structured questions prior to the visit. (This approach has been taken by telemedicine provider Zipnosis with adaptive online interviews and patient triage.) Mobihealthnews

Previous commentary by TTA’s Editor Emeritus Steve Hards on the procurement of the NI Remote Telemonitoring Service:

http://archive1.telecareaware.com/the-long-and-winding-road-that-leads-to-your-doorin-northern-ireland/
http://archive1.telecareaware.com/african-elephant-ecch/
http://archive1.telecareaware.com/remote-telemonitoring-northern-ireland-service-tender-long-list-mystery/
http://archive1.telecareaware.com/short-listed-companies-rtni-service/
http://archive1.telecareaware.com/northern-ireland-remote-monitoring-servicegoes-to-tf3/

 

Babylon Health ‘chatbot’ triage AI app raises £50 million in funding (UK)

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/babylon_lifestyle2.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Babylon Health, which has developed an AI-assisted chatbot to triage a potential patient in minutes, has raised a serious Series B of £50 million (US$60 million). Funders were Kinnevik AB, which had led the Series A, NNC Holdings, and Vostok New Ventures (Crunchbase). According to the FT (through TechCrunch), Babylon’s value is now north of $200 million. Revenues were not disclosed.

The current app uses texts to determine the level of further care, recommends a course of action, then connects the user if needed to a virtual doctor visit, or if acute to go to Accident & Emergency (US=emergency room or department). It also follows up with the user on their test results and health info. The funding will be used to enhance their current AI to extend to diagnosis. They are accumulating daily data on thousands of patients, machine learning which further refines the AI. Founder Dr. Ali Parsa, founder and CEO of Babylon, said in a statement. “Babylon scientists predict that we will shortly be able to diagnose and foresee personal health issues better than doctors, but this is about machines and medics cooperating, not competing.” Like other forms of telemedicine and triage (Zipnosis in health systems), it is designed to put healthcare access and affordability, as they claim, “into the hands of every person on earth”. The NHS pilot in north London [TTA 18 Jan] via the 111 hotline is testing Babylon as a ‘reliever’ though it directs only to a doctor appointment, not a video consult. BBC News, Mobihealthnews

Virtual care stops germs dead in their tracks! (Who would have thought it?)

Here at TTA we do receive and read a lot of press releases, and most are pretty meh. (We work very hard to avoid subjecting our readers to meh, as we don’t much like it either.) Now this one takes a different tack. It backs up telemedicine and telehealth technology that enables the patient to avoid the germ-filled doctor’s office and ED. According to Zipnosis citing the Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology journal, after the standard well-child visit, there is a 3.17 percent increase in influenza-like illnesses among children and their family members within two weeks. Extrapolated, this results in more than 766,000 additional office visits for flu-like symptoms each year and nearly $492 million in annual costs. Now here is a simple, proactive improvement in outcomes that achieves savings (hear that, HHS and NHS?) facilitated by healthcare technology. (See previous article on ‘A tricorder one step closer‘)

The remainder of the release concentrates on what a bad idea it is to subject the rest of the world to your germs when down with a cold or flu. Even the CDC wants patients to stay home from work, school and errands. (That is, if you can.) The point is made that virtual care can unjam doctor offices and EDs for those less dangerous who need hands on care. The light touch of the product message is that Zipnosis provides a white-labeled virtual care platform to health systems that first uses an online adaptive interview with a patient to document the condition, provides a diagnosis and treatment plan within an hour, directing the patient to an appropriate level of care. Release.

A hybrid telehealth/telemedicine model for health systems

Your Editors have been projecting that the Big Future of telecare-telehealth-telemedicine lies in integrating services, not the Big Data backend (though there’s a Big Role there). These three have to be more tightly aligned with health systems, whether ACOs/IDNs (US) or the NHS. Most of our consideration has been where they go at the end of acute care–transitional care (post-discharge/post-acute–those bed-blockers)–but here’s a different approach that puts them at the start of the care continuum. Minneapolis-based Zipnosis [TTA 13 May] has an asynchronous platform that is ‘white labeled’ for a health system and carries their branding. Their model uses pre-screening/assessment first–an ‘adaptive questionnaire’ taken online or on mobile, compiles the information, then depending on the result, returns to the patient to schedule a virtual (video/audio) consult, lab visit or referral to a physician. The smart parts are that this is completely within the the health system and integrates with their EHR, making it reimbursable. It also can be used to expand the patient base even if the care is short term or episodic.

Zipnosis currently has 17 health system clients. The latest is Fairview Health Services in Minneapolis where the system test is first with their 22,000-plus employee workforce. The focus is on early detection of diabetes and heart disease. Also recently announced were two Nebraska health systems, Bryan Health and Memorial Health Care. Somebody likes the model as their Series A back in January was $17 million led by Safeguard Scientifics with participation from Ascension Ventures, the investment arm of Ascension, a large Catholic health system. mHealth Intelligence, Becker’s Health ITHealthcareITNews,

Unintended consequences: American Well loses, loses patent, to Teladoc

On Tuesday, the Federal District Court of Massachusetts not only dismissed the American Well patent infringement lawsuit against Teladoc, but also invalidated American Well‘s patent, held by co-founder Dr. Roy Schoenberg since 2009. It was invalidated on the grounds that the claims in the patent were “too abstract” to be patentable and do not “amount to an inventive concept.” American Well is appealing the court decision.

Teladoc started this call-and-response in March 2015 by petitioning the USPTO (US Patent and Trademark Office) to invalidate several American Well patents. (AW claims to hold 28 patents and 22 pending applications). Shortly before Teladoc’s IPO on the New York Stock Exchange last June, American Well sued Teladoc on patent infringement. Those in the industry saw an effort to scupper the IPO. Our Editor Chrys at the time took a decidedly jaundiced view of American Well’s grounds for infringement:
This author is wondering who thought this was such a novel technology as to warrant a patent? What were they thinking? Having worked on developing unified messaging systems for a mobile phone operator at the turn of the century (now that’s a scary 15 years ago) I am just picking myself off the floor after reading this.
Surely all these functions are no more than what is in every instant messaging program, dating back to 1990s? Replace the words “medical service provider” by “friends” or “contacts” and “consultation” by “chat” or “call” it seems to me you get … Skype and Face Time and more! [TTA 9 June 15]
No matter, the result was yesterday’s double shot of a decision. In addition, three Teladoc complaints against American Well‘s patents to invalidate them are still in progress with the USPTO. A triple, anyone? MedCityNews, Teladoc press release, American Well press release
All this is despite the sobering facts that telemedicine has been unprofitable to date–and that IP wars have unintended consequences. (more…)

Are virtual visits consistent and effective? JAMA-published study raises doubts.

A medical/health policy team from University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) studied virtual telemedicine visits and found a “significant variation in quality.” Over a year, 67 trained standardized patients over 599 visits presented their symptoms to the eight largest telemedicine (video and phone) providers (not named in the abstract). Their illnesses were common and acute: ankle pain, streptococcal pharyngitis, viral pharyngitis, acute rhinosinusitis, low back pain and recurrent female urinary tract infection. Based on their metrics, histories and physical exams were completed only 70 percent of the time; key management decisions adhered to accepted guidelines 54 percent of the time. Rates of guideline-adherent care (best practices) ranged from 206 visits (34.4 percent) to 396 visits (66.1 percent) across the eight websites. Wide variations were also found in diagnosis of pharyngitis and acute rhinosinusitis, with clinicians adhering to guidelines anywhere from 12.8 percent to 82.1 percent of the time. JAMA Internal Medicine, May issue, published online 4 April: Variation in Quality of Urgent Health Care Provided During Commercial Virtual Visits (abstract only without subscription)

The type of telemedicine they studied were the typical live, real-time video appointments. Another ‘virtual care platform’ provider, Zipnosis, offers a contrasting way. They claim that the live simulacrum of the in-person appointment is lacking, and what’s needed is an asynchronous approach–‘store-and-forward’ information in what they call an “online structured, adaptive interview” integrated with health systems’ services.

In preview information released to press and as a letter to JAMA just prior to the start of the American Telemedicine Association’s (ATA) annual meeting, Zipnosis offered its own, far more positive study. Their review of 1,760 patient encounters (more…)

ONC gets in study game in designing the Consumer Centered Telehealth Experience

ONC (the Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, HHS) in the spring conducted a design session on creating a more consumer-centered telehealth experience, commissioning the engagedIN research firm to help select a panel, run it and produce the study. The white paper focuses on how telehealth can either further fracture or integrate PHR (study pages 7-11), and what’s needed to make telehealth and telemedicine more convenient and effective for consumers. The panel avoided the big telemedicine providers (a bone that Mobihealthnews picks with the study) which typically dominate these panels–to this Editor a positive action–but included other telehealth providers like Qualcomm Life, Care Innovations and Zipnosis, as well as the US’ largest user of telehealth, VA Home Telehealth. Among the key drivers of telehealth are HHS’ and private insurers (UHC) shift to value-based payments; CMS’ target of 50 percent of Medicare value-based care is cited (page 5). There are nine principles at the end (pgs 13-16) to guide the way forward. Designing the Consumer Centered Telehealth and e-Visit Experience (PDF) (Though it is confusing why e-Visit was used rather than ‘virtual visits’ or, in fact, telemedicine.)