Using Digital Tools to Improve Health Care
Some of us spend countless hours in physician waiting and exam rooms expecting the medical profession to cure all that ails us. In fact, we may receive “doctor’s orders” on how to take better care of our health, but, once we leave the office, those recommendations are not always deployed with the discipline necessary to make a positive impact.
That’s the void that digital health is designed to fill. It may sound as if it’s just an app for your phone, one you’re likely to forget to use. But if you’ve spent years trying to manage a chronic disease, digital health may be able to provide a better way.
Take the example of one patient who was suffering from complications of type 2 diabetes after 30 years of trying to manage the disease. At age 52, his triglyceride and cholesterol levels were very high, numbness in his limbs made daily activities increasingly difficult, his combined medications cost $5,000 a month — and he was developing a resistance to the insulin that was keeping him alive.1
Enter Virta Health, a digital health company with the goal of reversing type 2 diabetes. The company offers a treatment program as well as digital monitoring. Once enrolled, the diabetic patient took full advantage of the program’s services:2
- User-friendly mobile and desktop app that provides immediate access to care
- Individualized treatment plan based on his personal health markers (weight, blood pressure, etc.)
- 24/7 access to a physician to provide continuous medical supervision as well as to a personal health coach to provide nutrition and behavior management expertise
- Access to weekly feedback, food guides and education
This digital health model helps patients manage their care during all the hours they are not in a doctor’s office. A study of Virta Health‘s first-year results (of their five-year study) yielded the following information:3
- 94% of patients reduced or eliminated their need for insulin
- 60% reversed their type 2 diabetes
- Patients reduced their HbA1C levels (a diabetes marker) by an average of 1.3%
- Patients lost an average of 30 pounds
An added benefit: For the diabetic patient detailed above, the monthly tab for his prescriptions dropped from $5,000 to about $20.4
1 Mollie McDowell. Rock Health. 2017. “Looking forward to old age.” https://impact.rockhealth.com/virta. Accessed March 17, 2018.
Money Saving Tips
The Value of Electronic Record Keeping
Technology is one of the factors attributed to today’s longer lifespans. It comprises not only medical procedures and equipment but also information technology, including electronic record keeping. Health care providers say digital medical records can save lives, time and money.1
Electronic Medical Records
This leads us to the difference between the two types of digital health records: electronic medical records (EMR) versus electronic health records (EHR). EMR refers to the standard medical and clinical data collected at the individual doctor’s office. The EMR allows the clinician to track a patient’s health trends over time, identify patients due for preventive visits and screenings, and measure the overall quality of care within a practice. The information is kept by the individual office, and if other health care providers want to see the record, it may have to be printed out and mailed to them.2
Electronic Health Records
The EHR is a record of all clinicians involved in a patient’s care. The records may be emailed or accessed through a centralized database, allowing various physicians and other health care providers to access specific information to give them a comprehensive view of the patient’s history. This can be particularly important for emergency care providers in the event a patient is unable to respond to medical questions. Unlike an EMR, EHRs enable a patient’s medical records to move easily with them to other health care providers, hospitals, pharmacies, labs and so on.3
A relatively new addition to health care technology is the “Blue Button,” a symbol located on health care providers‘ websites that indicates patients can download their health records.4 The service makes it easier for people to view, download and share their personal data with others, without using any special technology or software. It currently is mostly available to active service members, veterans and Medicare beneficiaries, but more doctors, health plans and hospital websites are planning to offer the Blue Button at their patient portals as well.5
1 University of South Florida. “Benefits of Electronic Health Records.” https://www.usfhealthonline.com/resources/healthcare/benefits-of-ehr/. Accessed April 9, 2018.
2 HealthCo Information Systems. “Understanding EMR.” https://www.healthcosystems.com/practice-management-resources/what-is-an-emr/. Accessed April 9, 2018.
3 HealthIT.gov. March 16, 2018. “What Are Electronic Health Records (EHRs)?” https://www.healthit.gov/topic/health-it-and-health-information-exchange-basics/what-are-electronic-health-records-ehrs. Accessed April 9, 2018.
4 HealthIT.gov. Sept. 15, 2017. “About Blue Button.” https://www.healthit.gov/patients-families/blue-button/about-blue-button. Accessed March 19, 2018.
5 HealthIT.gov. Sept. 20, 2017. “Frequently Asked Questions.” https://www.healthit.gov/topic/health-it-initiatives/blue-button/frequently-asked-questions. Accessed April 9, 2018.
A Drug to Repair Teeth?
New studies of a drug developed for Alzheimer’s patients, called Tideglusib, has shown it may repair cavities and promote tooth regrowth. The drug stimulates stem cells in the pulp of teeth, which promotes new dentine production and natural tooth repair.1
For the studies, scientists inserted small, biodegradable sponges made of collagen soaked with Tideglusib into the cavities of mice. Not only did the treatment trigger dentine growth and repair damage within six weeks, but the sponges melted away on their own, leaving the teeth intact.2
Perhaps the best news is that, because Tideglusib has already undergone the requisite FDA clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease, this dental treatment may have a faster track to make its way into dental practices in the near future.3