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Digital tech solutions treating COVID-19 patients remotely

June 25th, 2020
topic:Technology
by:Bob Koigi
located in:USA
tags:COVID-19, digitalisation, health care, inequality, USA

As the number of corona virus cases and deaths reach epidemic proportions putting a strain on an already haemorrhaging global health sector, technology continues to play a pivotal role in providing transformative solutions that are easing the pressure on medicare while saving lives.

Chicago-based telemedicine company 4D Healthware is among the frontrunners offering tech- based interventions from remote monitoring, lab supported diagnosis and home treatment for patients in the wake of the pandemic.

Star Cunningham the founder and CEO of 4D Healthware talked to FairPlanet about her experience using tech to save lives, the place of tech in today’s medicine and what it means to be among the few African American female entrepreneurs in the telehealth space.

FairPlanet: Your company has been at the forefront of enabling remote diagnosing, treatment and home treatment of Covid-19 patients and easing the burden on healthcare. How exactly does the model work, what has given you the competitive edge in implementing these interventions and what has been the reception?

Star Cunningham: Since inception 4D Healthware has been monitoring patients remotely using devices. Our focus has been in monitoring weight, cardio, hypertension, diabetes and cancer. So for example for cancer patients we monitor conditions like vomiting, nausea, fever, body temperature with thermometer and devices measuring hydration level. When monitoring diabetes we work with Bluetooth enabled glucometer and when monitoring hypertension there is Bluetooth enabled blood pressure cuff.

Because we already had protocols that were checking conditions like body temperature and fever, when Covid-19 was announced, adding it to the list of diseases we were monitoring was only a 72 hour process. Once the protocol was done and the devices were selected we started receiving our first patients. We were going through the protocol, making a determination on whether or not that patient had been screened to receive guidance to stay at home, to self-isolate, to quarantine or whether they needed to be taken to the emergency room. This allowed us to eliminate 90 per cent of unnecessary emergency room visits and ease the pressure on the limited available services and resources that were in high demand. And when we found out that they needed to be self-isolated or quarantined, we found that a lot of people didn’t understand what that meant so we had to ask them further questions in order to educate them, offer them protective equipment then engaged social services for further help and support.

We of course saw an upsurge with the entry of Covid-19 but our company has always been ready for patients. We currently have a capacity of handling 500,000 patients across the country.

What have been the most challenging moments for you and your company in providing these services in the wake of the pandemic?

One of our challenges has been the realization of how disproportionately people of colour are impacted by the disease with 7 out of every ten who contract the disease dying. Most of them are not watching the media, so we have to go where they are to educate them. We have tapped into radio to reach them with ads and training. When people hear about what we are doing they visit us and we are able to offer them screenings, additional information and care.

The challenges overly come from healthcare as an industry especially in regulatory compliance that sometimes make it hard for us to implement our services. Yet this pandemic has taught us that some of these legislations are not even necessary and are a bottleneck to enhanced access to health for all.

For example prior to the pandemic, clinicians had to be licensed in the state in which they practiced. When the pandemic struck, within 72 hours state licensing requirements were immediately removed. Which is how it should be. If you are licensed to practice in any section of the country, then you should be licensed to service people anywhere in that country irrespective of where the people are. If there are any global licensing requirements, then they should follow what the US government did in the wake of the pandemic.

What has been your experience using technology for health management of patients?

My involvement in telemedicine has largely been inspired by my personal story. My background has been artificial intelligence and machine learning working at IBM. As I travelled the world with that experience and using technology to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems I was also managing my own multiple chronic conditions. I have had Scoliosis disease, a sideways curvature of the spine, and experience chronic pain due to a metal rod that was inserted in my spine, hip and shoulder to correct the condition since I was a child. As a result I have consumed healthcare from across the world and became frustrated at the failure of the healthcare system to properly handle diagnosis, treatment and manage my care.

The birth of 4D Healthware, a company that is built to deliver comprehensive and dedicated telemedicine products, was inspired because of what I went through and because I wanted to do things differently.

In your opinion what are the trends that have shaped telemedicine and your line of work?

In the beginning it was very difficult for us because in the United States people are accustomed to health care being paid for by their insurance. The attitude has been ‘So if my insurance didn’t cover it I didn’t need it. I must not need it, because if I needed it, my insurance would cover it.’ Insurance wouldn’t cover services that were being delivered virtually. But over time insurance models have started adopting to these new dynamics and are now embracing issues like chronic care management, behavioural health integration and telehealth services in their activities.

There has also been a slow adoption of telemedicine services because of the pay factor. In US healthcare is largely driven by the ability to turn a patient into a revenue generating proposition therefore there is more money to be made in a face to face consultation with a patient than virtual engagement. Of course as tech evolves things are slowly changing.

What is the space and place of technology in modern healthcare?

While there are all these tools that are applied in the virtual care of patients, there is need to understand that telemedicine is not just another widget or we are not just dealing with just gadgets. The person on the other side of the screen, the patient has expectations. So clinicians have to have extra skills like the personality they project and the way they talk to the patient that they cannot physically see. The idea is to meet or exceed these expectations.

What do you think needs to be done to upscale the uptake of technology in the health sector?

Healthcare is quite behind in understanding what consumers want. The industry needs to focus more on consumer driven healthcare. This transition we are going through especially with COVID-19 has given industry players food for thought on the various options people need and should be given especially in these extraordinary times when people are afraid of what they might be exposed to. Consumers are already embracing telemedicine, and the industry needs to be alive to this fact and invest in it.

What does it mean to you to be among the few African American female entrepreneurs in the telehealth space?

It is a unique time that we are living in. To be an African American woman in healthcare and technology during this period when my people are being heavily impacted, that is a huge responsibility. It means can’t stop, won’t stop. I have in front of me, the ability to impact, affect and benefit the lives of everyone I can afford to.

Credit front page image: The doctor fills the medicine in the syringe by Marco Verch under Creative Commons 2.0 

Article written by:
Bildschirmfoto-2014-10-08-um-19.29.13
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
USA
"One of our challenges has been the realization of how disproportionately people of colour are impacted by the disease with 7 out of every ten who contract the disease dying."
"Our focus has been in monitoring weight, cardio, hypertension, diabetes and cancer."
"The birth of 4D Healthware, a company that is built to deliver comprehensive and dedicated telemedicine products, was inspired because of what I went through and because I wanted to do things differently."