My colleagues Alessia Stewart, Paul-Julien Giraud, and I embarked on a journey two months ago to understand how connected devices can support the delivery of healthcare. We thought connected devices would be helpful in informing diagnoses, monitoring, ensuring compliance of treatment plans, and running clinical trials. We’re building a body of research, but we’ve decided to share a few things along the way. The Philips Virtual Care Station pod falls outside of the category of wearables but is a large connected device.
The potential for technology to help consumers exists, but connected devices face tremendous headwinds before they will impact healthcare and wellness at scale. Clear and identified headwinds include:
- Cost of the devices
- Usability (i.e., can consumers collect data that doctors will trust?)
- Consumer motivation (today, healthy athletes own the majority of smart watches — see report)
- Doctors’ interest and ability to use the data as well as concerns about liability
- Reimbursement models
- Healthcare task flows (i.e., how to embed the devices, data, or insights into processes)
- Accessibility (i.e., can those most in need use the devices easily?)
Many veterans are unable to visit a Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital, making everything from routine checkups to necessary care a challenge. The challenge of physical access to care is common across rural America. In collaboration with the VA, Philips designed a remote care station that can be implemented in virtually any location to improve the reach of the VA’s care for its members. Philips is now expanding this project to the overall population, with a focus on rural America. Currently, the pod contains an attendant, simple medical devices such as a blood pressure cuff or scale, seating, writing areas, and a screen that is connected to a physician. The pod is accessible to virtually any conditions and disabilities, and the attendant can help smooth any technical bumps in the visit. The pod can be used for anything from a checkup to a visit or check-ins for post surgery, pregnancies, etc. Philips learned that some veterans were more comfortable seeking telehealth services outside of the home for privacy.
We expect the initial challenges will be in the economics. The rural areas where the pod can achieve the highest impact will likely be the towns with the smallest populations and lowest purchasing power. The lower the cost of the pod, the more financially feasible installing a pod will be in the areas where it can have the highest accessibility impact. Pod economics and insurer reimbursements will also dictate the potential of the pod as an option between an at-home virtual visit and the doctor’s office. While consumers value convenience and quality, cost of care must be equal to or on par with alternative care methods to drive change.
What makes the pod interesting?
- A potential solution to the nursing shortage. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment projections for 2019 to 2029 predict an increase of 221,900 registered nurses in the workforce over that time period. The demand is projected to grow by 175,900 per year over the same 10-year horizon (1,759,000 openings). When a labor supply shortage occurs, we can expect them to concentrate in the areas of greatest wealth, leaving rural and underserved areas to feel the greatest impact. Pod attendants can replace a lot of the nurse’s functionality. Doctor-attendant combos can replace a lot of doctor-nurse combos for things like checkups and physicals. If we can properly allocate nurses to things nurses must do, such as administer shots, then we can offload a lot of the tasks to attendants, which should lift some of the demand pressure causing the nursing shortage.
- The potential to increase access to care by lowering costs to high-end devices. Philips’ portfolio includes some of the highest-quality remote patient monitoring devices, but most are catered for health systems and are too expensive for an individual to afford. If the devices are put in the pod and maintained/sanitized by the attendant, then one device can serve a certain multiple of people. With one device serving multiple people, you can charge each person less as opposed to having them purchase the device.
- An efficient middle ground in between the doctor’s office and the virtual care setting. More options are better, especially when there are currently two options for care settings (in-person vs. at home). There should be a large portion of the population who will prefer the middle ground (pod setting), and there should be a wide range of use cases where this is best for treatment (e.g., a certain device is needed but the patient does not own it or an attendant would be needed to help, etc.). Going from two to three unique care setting options is a step toward customizable care that can increase utility for a large portion of the population.
How did Philips tackle the usability challenge?
- Accessibility for people with conditions. Drawers are accessible, and the pod can accommodate guests, wheelchairs, service animals, and is ADA-compliant. The attendant can help with device usage or any other accessibility issues. Compared to an at-home virtual visit, the attendant and design can be the difference maker.
- Physical accessibility. The pod was designed to be stood up in any location to accommodate physical accessibility issues.
- Privacy and technology issues (mainly underserved communities). Many populations do not have the proper privacy or technology to perform the best virtual visit possible. This is a convenient low-lift solution.
Please stay tuned for more content from this research stream. And if you have read about, used, or know about a device we should include in our research, please let us know. We’d love to include more devices in our research.