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mHealth Helps Out in the ER

A digital health newcomer is proposing to use Watson to screen patients in the waiting room and help with Emergency Department traffic.

By Eric Wicklund

- A newcomer to the telemedicine market is pledging to use Watson to screen incoming patients to a hospital’s Emergency Department.

TeleMedCo, based in Florida, joins the ranks of digital health companies looking to automate the registration process in what is typically a health systems busiest department – and most-used access point for new patients. The company proposes to combine a real-time communications platform with IBM’s machine-learning solution to query people in the waiting room, access their electronic health records and determine a care pathway.

It’s not the first time healthcare has looked to digital health tools to help the beleaguered Emergency Department. In 2014, researchers at the University of Florida developed a predictive analytics simulator designed to identify wait times, bed use, low-acuity cases and physician status in order to speed up patient care and eliminate bottlenecks.

The U.S. Army, meanwhile, is currently testing a telemedicine-based platform at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital in Fort Campbell, Ky., where ER visitors are first screened via video by doctors at Eisenhower Army Medical Center in Augusta, Ga., to determine if they need emergency care. And in Houston, that city’s fire department is using Project ETHAN, a telehealth platform that gives 911 first responders a video link to a call center staffed with clinicians, who can determine if the patient needs to be transported at a hospital.

Other mHealth projects are using smartphone apps, tablets, kiosks and even sensor-embedded furniture to take the “waiting” out of the waiting room. In TeleMedCo’s case, the idea is to take the stress out of the hospital’s most-stressed room.

“Having Watson welcome and interview patients who come to an emergency facility will free up time for doctors and other healthcare personnel to see more patients and to focus on those requiring more urgent attention,” the company said in a press release. “Because of Watson’s ability to read medical journals and research documents in real time and its vast pharmaceutical database, Watson will speed treatment and help to eliminate errors, thereby de-stressing the process. TeleMedCo solutions, powered by IBM Watson, will also update patient records, code and process insurance claims and monitor patients for aftercare.”

“With Kandy’s real time communications cloud capabilities integrated into the solution, should a patient need to speak with his or her doctor, the doctor will automatically be alerted and can open a voice call or video consult within seconds using a smartphone or tablet,” the press release continues. “If the primary doctor or specialist is not available, the alert will automatically hunt for the next professional associated with that patient’s case.”

TeleMedCo is using the Kandy platform from Plano, Texas-based GENBAND for its communications service, which includes voice services, instant messaging and multi-party video. Officials say they hope to begin hospital-based trials of the new platform by the end of this year.

The proposed platform plays upon one of Watson’s strengths: to combine consumer-entered data with machine-learning capabilities to generate decision support. IBM first applied Watson to healthcare roughly four years ago, and – along with opening a new headquarters for Watson Health in Boston – has been bringing its analytics engine to bear on a number of projects.

Telemedicine advocates got a hint at what Watson might do in emergency medicine earlier this year when IBM announced a partnership with Medtronic to integrate cognitive computing its diabetes devices and mHealth platforms. The two companies are now working together to embed analytics in wearable platforms – in essence, using Watson to help diabetics manage their conditions and alert caregivers when biometric readings point to an impending health crisis.

In February, IBM acquired Truven Analytics, adding to its 2015 haul of Explorys, Phytel and Merge Healthcare to build out a big data analytics and clinical decision support platform for everything from population health to chronic care management. Shortly thereafter, Watson was being touted in mHealth programs for cardiac care in the workplace and an ambitious study on sleep.

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