Much has been said about the value of patient data within the healthcare system. That data is largely generated by providers and healthcare machines. Surprisingly, little attention has rested on the value of patient data generated by the patient, especially in regards to first responder and ER doctor specific use.
Yes, consumer wearables are one source for patient generated health data, but they have yet to prove useful to providers and even less so to first responders. It is the personal emergency alert market that presents the best opportunity at the moment for this type of data collection and sharing.
From stay-at-home to mobile emergency alert systems
For decades, personal emergency alert systems have been limited to summoning first responders. You’re probably most familiar with them as a combination of a base station in the home coupled with a remote necklace containing a button. The patient must stay in the device’s range and be alert enough to push the button to activate the process.
Help is immediately summoned but responders have no other information, such as medications and existing health conditions. This is a problem if the patient is unable to give such vital information to responders as soon as they arrive. Emergency personnel could easily administer the wrong treatment for that patient or misdiagnosis the problem.
Newer personal emergency alert systems use cellular phone connectivity and GPS to allow people to travel almost anywhere and still be able to summon help. Even so, these also require the person be able to activate the system and they only summon help—they do not transfer patient data to the emergency team.
Lost opportunities for emergency patient data
Ever since the advent of the medical alert bracelet, people have been seeking a means to efficiently, cost-effectively, and reliably get critical information to first responders and ER doctors in the event that the patient cannot share that information. Attempts have found mixed success since few mediums hold enough information and can also be easily changed to reflect new health information.
Mobile and cloud applications are providing the means to easily store and share such data. But further, the process of discovery is simplified. First responders know that just about everyone carries a mobile phone and loads of information can be found in it—including contact info for close family members. Unfortunately few mobile apps exist that enable patients to record their health conditions and medications for first responders to use.
Instead, most mobile apps today are designed for medical research or provider use. Those that are made for consumers typically record exercise activity alone or are designed to connect the patient with the provider for communication purposes.
First responders can’t use patient-provider apps to gain immediate access to patient information as those apps are protected by passwords that the responder doesn’t have. At most, a responder can note the name of the app and perhaps figure out what provider to call, but that’s a mighty big “if” to count on in a life-threatening situation.
The challenge now is in how to protect the privacy of the patient’s medical data but also make it easily retrievable by first responders.
A step in the right direction
Fortunately a few entrepreneurs and app developers are working on this problem. One example of a recent result of these efforts is the Daily Companion system for seniors. In short, the Daily Companion combines telecare with a personal emergency response alert system. It’s made by MedSign International Corporation and its features include, according to the press release:
- One-touch to Call Center from home station or smartphone
- Global, secure access to critical health information and meds
- Instant access for first responders to emergency caller's health information and prescription meds
- Smartphone apps with GPS tracking
- Automatic notification of your loved ones in case of an emergency
- Simple plug-in home station uses standard phone line
- Push a button to call physician
- Registered Nurse on Call 24/7
- Daily healthcare reminders
- Brain challenging exercises
- Built-in speakerphone system
It’s a good first step. One of the major drawbacks is that the patient still must be able to activate the system by pushing a button. It will be awhile longer before technology advances to the point that such systems can identify a crisis health issue on their own, or detect that the patient has fallen and automatically react to summon help.
How providers can help first responders get patient data
The market will soon offer several different types of apps and systems designed to both summon help and share patient data with first responders. But that will be a problem too.
Responders may not recognize all the apps and systems nor know to look for them. In some events, mobile devices may be lost, destroyed or even stolen. Lots of things can happen to make these really good ideas unusable in a crisis.
A better plan would be to make patient data available through a central clearing house that responders can always turn to for reliable information. Perhaps a connection to such data could be established through existing 911 systems or hospital coordinated system. The goal should be to establish one central contact point for first responders to use to retrieve life-saving information.
Such a data service would have to be meticulously maintained so that patient records are always up-to-date and accurate. But such a system could also alert the patient’s primary care doctor or other doctors, as well as family members, in the event of a health crisis.
In short, this is one of many areas in which healthcare must hone its big data skills. Here’s hoping they do so soon.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.