Access to healthcare is one of the most pressing concerns in healthcare today – whether due to rising costs or lack of resources or merely added convenience, both healthcare professionals and patients alike are seeking ways to access healthcare in a more effective way. There appears to be a growing shortage of nurses in key areas around the world. With ageing populations, this issue is becoming a pressing concern for many providers.
One start-up Sense.ly is hoping to mitigate this by offering a virtual nurse. ‘Molly’ is an avatar who supports patients in between their appointments. Patients start by signing up to the platform which then creates a care plan tailored entirely for them. The idea is that the patient can follow this plan from home, and just checks in with Molly every now and then through a computer or smartphone. Molly’s abilities are fairly limited – restricted to asking simple questions, directing patients through their exercises and collecting various essential bits of medical data, but hopefully her role in giving patients an essential reminder and even motivation is something that can contribute to their recovery.
For those patients who would prefer a more real ‘Molly’, Go2Nurse is a service available in the Midwest of the United States that offers unlimited in-home care for conditions ranging from prenatal care all the way to senior care, Parkinson’s etc. The company was founded by a registered nurse and they believe this service is not just appealing to patients but also to nurses who apparently like being given more responsibility for planning and coordinating care for their patients. Nurses are scheduled through an online form and offer a range of what it describes as ‘concierge care services’.
We have reported on various ‘Doctor on call’ apps in previous editions and certainly this trend shows no sign of abating. In the US in particular, there is a growing desire for a premium, on-demand (24/7), on my door-step approach to healthcare. And with patients in the US waiting an average of 19 days just to see their family doctors, perhaps this is not surprising. Most of these ‘on-call’ apps are for ‘distress’ appointments – something that is a minor emergency. However, in Heal’s case, the company encourages would-be patients to make them their primary care provider so they hold all their medical records. This means that doctors can come well-informed and for a wide range of healthcare needs. Doctors are targeted to arrive within 60 minutes of a request being logged. The service has been particularly popular with busy parents and working professionals who can get easy access to a quality physician without having to spend lots of time either waiting in a doctor’s surgery or trying to schedule an appointment in the first place. One of the other benefits of Heal is that they don’t target how long doctors have to see their patients so their doctors can spend as much time as they want and need to. Heal is often described as providing an Uber-style service for healthcare and it certainly seems like the idea is proving to be popular, Heal has recently secured US$5 million in funding.
In our previous edition of TMI-Spy Health we introduced ChatHealth, a texting software for vulnerable teenagers available at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust. There is no doubt that young people, so-called Digital Natives, often find it easier to discuss their more intimate details via text. This is why Lantern has been launched in the US, giving young people easy access to mental health experts. For a fee of $49 a month or $300 per year, users can send unlimited messages regarding their mental health concerns.
BetterHelp is a similar offer – this time incorporating video chat. What BetterHelp and Lantern offer is an ‘on demand’ service. Experience has shown that some Gen Y patients have not always found it easy to stick to scheduled appointments and talking to experts. As and when demand arises appears to be a more effective and appealing way of interacting with this generation.
These trends are not restricted to general or mental health practitioners. In New York, Blink offers a similar service in optometry. This start-up sends technicians to people’s homes to preform eye exams. These technicians arrive more portable versions of devices found in an optometrist’s office. They take measurements and then send them to the optometrist back at ‘base’ to review and approve. The customer can then take this prescription and fulfil it wherever they wish to do so. Currently this service is merely for eye tests rather than any medical eye issues but the optometric community is concerned that the public will not understand the difference.
Whilst some of these apps have been developed for the “I want it now” generation, Peek Vision is a UK-based app that is designed to access patients with eye care issues in much more remote parts of the world. Peek Vision basically turns a smartphone camera into an eye-care kit. It can scan the lens of the eye for cataracts and illuminate the retina to check for disease. It even includes a ‘shrinking letter’ that can be used as a basic vision text. The app has been tested in remote areas of Kenya, Botswana, Mali and Guatemala. According to PSFK, Peek offers a promising means of achieving the World Health Assembly goal to globally reduce visual impairments by 25% come 2019.
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