One Doctor’s Prescription for the Health Tech Industry

March 20, 2017, 4:24 PM UTC
A man uses an UP fitness wristband and its smartphone application in Washington on July 16, 2013. Jawbone, the San Francisco-based company behind "smart" wireless earpieces and Jambox speakers, late last year released redesigned UP wristbands that combine fashion with smartphone lifestyles to help people along paths to improved fitness. UP wristbands are priced at $129 in the United States. UP applications tailored for Apple or Android mobile devices collect data from the bands to let people get pictures of activity, sleep, eating, and even moods on any given day or over time. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by Nicholas Kamm — AFP/Getty Images

It’s no surprise that digital health startups are often staffed with tech experts who have the savvy to build out complex IT infrastructure. But in many cases, the end-users – in this case, the medical providers and doctors who will ultimately use these technologies – are left out of the process. And that needs to change if we’re truly going to realize the potential of the digital health revolution, according to anesthesiologist and tenured Northwestern University professor Dr. M. Christine Stock.

Stock is out with an op-ed in Venture Beat which she dubs an “open letter health tech startups.” In it, she lists the ongoing hurdles to effectively folding groundbreaking tech into the medical sector, including a lack of physician input during the development phase.

“While many new technologies work well after the period of adaptation, leaving end-users (physicians) out of the product development process leads to unanticipated problems such as unintuitive and frustrating workflow, taxing documentation requirements, and nonsensical and inaccurate cut-and-paste progress notes,” she writes.

And what happens when the doctor’s perspective is incorporated from the get-go? Good things, according to Stock. Her own practice performed an experiment wherein one of her doctors was given time to collaborate (and wrangle) with health IT developers to create an electronic medical records system that would be effective for the practice’s specific workflow. And, lo-and-behold, the strategy resulted in a tool that now serves as a prototype for Stock’s type of clinical environment.

Stock goes on to issue a number of specific recommendations for the digital health industry that she believes would go a long way toward improving outcomes and results, including: technology tailored to smartphones; open platform electronic medical records that allow systems to talk to each other; and, strikingly, a “common medical identification number for every person starting at birth,” among other suggestions.

“The tech community must be willing to engage early and to listen. And we physicians must be willing to meet the developmental challenges and share,” she concludes.

This essay appears in today’s edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.

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