The innovative ways technology promotes health
As the nation's health-care system changes, clinicians and researchers are examining new approaches to care. Telemedicine links between physicians and patients, virtual classrooms, procedure simulations and electronic medical records are all part of this conversation.
Known as connected health, this national trend encompasses medical devices, health informatics, computer-controlled patient simulators and web-based learning programs.
The bottom line is to reduce costs while increasing accessibility. For instance, remote patient monitoring and home-based care are quickly improving clinical access. Even more importantly, these approaches could potentially reduce hospital readmissions.
"We know that medication adherence is a problem for many patients with chronic conditions," says Joseph Kvedar, director of the Center for Connected Health in Boston. "Hospitals are experimenting with smartphone apps and even internet-connected pill caps that could improve adherence and keep patients out of the hospital."
Led by the Center for Health and Technology, UC Davis is leading the charge to embrace these new approaches.
One program, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is investigating whether a smartphone app can help adolescents combat mental health issues. Using the app, teens record their daily and weekly symptoms. The program also tracks their movements and daily social contacts, such as the number of incoming telephone calls and text messages.
"We are trying to identify the early warning signals that someone is struggling so we can intervene earlier and hopefully prevent a relapse," said Tara Niendam, assistant professor in the medical school’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
Another key to enhancing patient care is improving training. The Center for Virtual Care trains students and clinicians, teaching them new procedures and helping them operate as a team. Accredited by the American College of Surgeons, this virtual hospital can mimic an intensive care unit or replicate the flow of patients through an entire medical center.
"The Center for Virtual Care is all about education, not only as it applies to telemedicine but also the clinical provision of care," says Aaron Bair, medical director of the Center for Health and Technology and the Center for Virtual Care.
The electronic medical record (EMR) is another key piece of connected health. UC Davis began implementing its EMR more than 10 years ago. EMRs improve communication and patient safety by reducing errors associated with poor hand-writing or by alerting the care team to high-risk symptoms. Barcoding ensures that medications are properly administered. The system also directs the care team to educate patients on particular health topics, such as obesity, or lets them know if a patient is eligible for a clinical trial.
"The Center for Virtual Care is all about education, not only as it applies to telemedicine but also the clinical provision of care."
EMRs also improve communication among health-care providers and patients. The medical center has shared nearly 4 million medical records with referring physicians. Nearly 100,000 UC Davis patients manage their health records online.
The UC Davis EMR is connected to the larger UC Research Exchange (UC ReX) database, which now contains more than 12 million patient histories. This de-identified information helps researchers determine which cancer treatments are most effective or how to prevent cardiovascular disease, investigations that elevate care in California and around the world.