AGA Tech Summit

Adapting consumer technology into GI practice



– You can command Alexa to order pizza and spool up your favorite flick, but accessing digital health data remains a struggle. Michael Docktor, MD, wants to change that.

A pediatric gastroenterologist and the clinical director of innovation at Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Docktor believes that it’s just a matter of time before consumer-driven digital technology fundamentally changes the way physicians and patients interact.

Dr. Michael Docktor

Dr. Michael Docktor

“In medicine, we are often in the habit of trying to recreate the wheel,” he said during the “Digital Health in GI Disease” session at the 2018 AGA Tech Summit, sponsored by the AGA Center for GI Innovation and Technology. “My hope and belief is that we can borrow from the best of the consumer technology world and apply that to our world in health care and GI specifically.”

Dr. Docktor shared some of the “tools and toys” that have come of his group’s program and also “exposed folks to things that they may not be thinking about traditionally in medicine.”

In particular, one area he focused on was how certain voice technologies are enhancing health care delivery, such as integration of Amazon’s Alexa. Consider Alexa a nurse on call.

“At a high level, some things that I think are interesting are virtual assistants and the use of voice in health care,” he said. “We have placed a fairly large bet on voice in health care and built some skills for Alexa.”

He also highlighted a new virtual reality tool that was recently launched by Boston Children’s Hospital to help gastroenterologists better educate their patients.

HealthVoyager was developed in conjunction with Klick Health. The kid-friendly app lets children take a virtual ride through their GI tract. Clinicians draw in abnormal findings on a simplified template. The app then recreates those findings – lesions, polyps, or inflammatory changes – in the positions they actually occupy in the patient. It generates a QR code that’s given to the patient, allowing the child to access her imaging in a HIPAA-compliant manner.

It’s cool, sure, Dr. Docktor said. But does it bring any value to the physician-patient interaction?

“The challenge of digital health is to prove that there’s actual value, it’s not just a bunch of snazzy tech. Are patients really using it? Sharing it? Are they educating themselves and their family and their community? We want to study this clinically and validate whether or not it results in improved adherence and improved patient satisfaction.”

He covered other technologies, such as Chatbox and blockchain, and the roles they can play in health care.

In the not-too-distant future, Dr. Docktor envisions voice assistants integrated into daily medical practice. Amazon’s Alexa provides an aspirational goal, he said.

“We are seeing the rise of the voice assistant. By 2020, researchers predict that 50% of all Internet searches will happen just by voice. Voice interface, I believe, will be driving health care by interfacing with patients at home. I predict that over the next 5 years, most of us will have a medical encounter on a device like this. Technology is not a limiting factor in this scenario. It’s just red tape on the payer and provider side at this point.”

Carla E. Small

Dr. Docktor’s colleague, Carla E. Small, senior director of the Innovation & Digital Health Accelerator at Boston Children’s Hospital, provided another real-life example of his digital vision. The Innovation & Digital Health Accelerator is a division within the hospital devoted to identifying, nurturing, and implementing digital health care solutions.

“The world has moved to a technology-enabled health care environment, and we all have to be there along with it,” she said. “That also creates a great opportunity for those who have an interest in innovation. There is a lot of ground for changing the way we do things and really leveraging that creativity and innovation.”

One Accelerator product that’s up and running is Thermia. The online tool guides parents through the anxiety of managing a child’s fever.

Thermia quickly and easily allows concerned parents to interpret a child’s temperature and understand which steps they should consider taking. Parents enter their child’s age, temperature, weight, any associated symptoms like rash, sore throat, or GI upset, as well as comorbid medical conditions. An algorithm issues advice for treatment at home or, if the data suggest a risk or serious problem, suggests a visit to the pediatrician or the emergency room. Thermia also automatically calculates the dosage of over-the-counter antipyretic medications based on age and weight.

The Accelerator is investigating a host of other digital health products in different stages of concept, design, and execution. Health care simply has to embrace the digital trends that are changing the way people interact with their world.

The AGA Center for GI Innovation and Technology wants to hear the unique ways gastroenterologists are leveraging consumer technology in their practices. Send us an email at [email protected].

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