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Digital health care is here — From diagnosis to prescriptions

By Karen Graham     Aug 12, 2017 in Health
Advances in the biotech sector and health care have changed the way we view the medical field today. With new medicines, diagnostics, and procedures available to everyone, it didn't take long for medicine and health care to go digital.
A story in Digital Journal last week discussed the opportunities for digital health solutions, especially in many countries where the older population outnumbers the younger age groups. However, it was also noted that the one obstacle holding digital health resources back was getting the older generation to accept the technology.
But regardless of anyone's age, today, no matter what ails you, there's an app for that, as they say. Millions of chronically ill people worldwide take medications daily that require repeat prescriptions, and some people, like this writer, take as many as 6 or more different medications at different times every day.
One of the Med Center electronic pill boxes
One of the Med Center electronic pill boxes
Martin Cooper
However, the BBC is reporting that people taking multiple medications over the course of a day now have help in keeping track of their medications and when they need to be refilled, as well as letting the person know when to take a particular pill or tablet.
United Kingdom's NHS ECHO app
The BBC story focused on the plight of a lady who came home from the hospital after a bone marrow transplant procedure, carrying two large bags of medications. As Melissa Fehr remembers, a bout of shingles was "horrible ... it was just constant pain, so I was prescribed five or six different pain killers."
An image of the ECHO app used in the UK.
Courtesy of NHS  CC license.
An image of the ECHO app used in the UK. Courtesy of NHS, CC license.
"It was at that point I realized I needed an app to manage things because some of them were five times a day, some were three times a day, some were within an hour of eating, some were 'you can't eat' was all over the place."
The U.K.'s National Health Service has an app called ECHO that's free and quite simple to use. It has been revamped so it keeps track of each medication a person is using, prescribing information on dosage, when to reorder your medication, and when to see your doctor.
Stephen Bourke, who founded Echo along with partner and chief executive Sai Lakshmi, said, "It's all about reducing paperwork. My doctors don't need to see me for a repeat prescription - it's a waste of time if they do."
"Research shows that around a third to half of all medications are not taken as directed - it's a big problem," he says, adding, "We turn these directions into reminders that people can understand using natural language processing; we get rid of all the irrelevant stuff."
United States' PillPack Pharmacy
Somerville, MA.-based PillPack is an online pharmacy operating in 49 states, with the exception of Hawaii. The app is designed to work for people taking multiple medications. PillPack works a little differently from the UK's ECHO, though. PillPack sends a personalized roll of pre-sorted medications, along with a convenient dispenser and any other medications that cannot be placed into packets, like liquids and inhalers. Each shipment includes a medication label that has a picture of each pill and notes on how it should be taken.
PillPack s shipment contains everything necessary to take your daily medications.
Image courtesy of...
PillPack's shipment contains everything necessary to take your daily medications. Image courtesy of PillPack/Creative Commons, attrition, no derivative work.
PillPack uses PharmacyOS, a software program created in-house. that manages each customer's medications, including refills, and renewals, and make sure each shipment is sent on time. The program also has an online dashboard so customers can control their shipments, refills, and co-pays. Customers can also email, text, or call their PillPack pharmacist any time to ask questions or clarify instructions.
Amazon plans to dive into the health care market
Amazon, not wanting to be left out of anything that might prove to be lucrative, has indicated it will move into the health sector, starting with the $560 billion prescription drug market, according to CNBC on Friday.
CNBC is reporting that Amazon is testing its Echo technology in top hospitals and creating a secret "1492" team dedicated to health-technology opportunities like telemedicine and electronic medical records. The news prompted Goldman Sachs to publish a 30-page report from five research analysts on Amazon's ambitions, citing the CNBC news.
Amazon Echo Dot
Amazon Echo Dot
While no one is sure what Amazon will actually do, the report suggests Amazon might try partnering with a pharmacy benefits manager (PBM), which acts as an intermediary between payers, like health insurers, and the rest of the health system. The thing that's worrisome about this is doing so will give Amazon "access to patient data and the potential to cross-sell related products."
But Amazon also suffers from an age-gap problem, with the majority of its customers being younger and therefore, healthier. Then, according to the report, there is the option of Amazon moving into digital health by using the Echo in clinical settings. "Imagine seeing a virtual doctor on your Amazon app, having it prescribe you a certain medication, and then tapping a 'buy now' button -- all without leaving your home."
Personally, as an elderly consumer, just having an app to help me keep track of what I take and when I need to take it will do me just fine.
More about Health care, prescription apps, UK's NHC, amazon echo, Diagnosis
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