Q&A with John Lynn: How Technology Will Improve the Quality of Healthcare
John Lynn is an entrepreneur and a blogger with extensive experience in the information technology sector of the healthcare industry. Among his many IT skills, John takes particular pride in his ability to bridge the gap between those who are technically savvy and those who are technically challenged.
Q: Based on your experience in healthcare-related IT, how do you see the healthcare experience evolving for providers between now and 2025?
A: The biggest change I foresee is an increasing use of AI (artificial intelligence). I expect AI to take over a lot of the mundane tasks that plague healthcare today. And I think that’s true for nurses, doctors, and even the doctor’s front-desk operation. Everyone involved in healthcare is going to be impacted by AI.
Now, it’s not going to replace the doctor as some people have suggested, but I think that it will augment medical professionals in ways that are going to make them more efficient and more effective. And it’s going to improve the care that patients receive.
Q: In what areas of healthcare will AI have its earliest impact?
A: We already see it to some degree in radiology, where the FDA has approved a handful of AI-assisted diagnostic tools. It probably will show up next in back-office operations. Already, chatbots are interacting with patients about bills, scheduling, and even in a kind of triage function. These bots can make sure patients are directed to the right source of care, and they can even assist doctors by suggesting potential diagnoses that the doctor has not yet considered.
AI is also helping doctors to formulate clinical decisions by supplying input on drug interactions and potential allergic reactions. But I think we’re going to see that accelerated to a much higher degree where the decision support will go beyond flagging potential drug-allergy interactions to something more specific involving such factors as genomics and biomics. This could help to ensure that patients get treatment tailored much more closely to their specific needs.
Q: How will IT alter the patient experience in the years ahead?
A: If I were to walk into a doctor’s office right now, the nurse would know nothing about me, and the doctor would know only what the nurse had asked me before the doctor entered the exam room. Our visits to the doctor should include much more information that’s being collected by ourselves, by sensors, and by previous doctors’ visits.
And why don’t they do that now? First, they don’t do it because of a lack of interoperability. Second, and probably more importantly, they don’t have the time to go through all of that data and decide what is and what isn’t relevant. AI could assist by filtering through all the information that’s available from our personal devices, our past health history, and our genomics to give the doctor a running start when he walks into the exam room.
Patient reaction to the current state of affairs in healthcare will certainly dictate the speed at which some of these advances are made. Right now, patients are really starting to see the dark underbelly of healthcare. And I’m not really sure how they’re going to respond. There is already outrage among patients about some aspects of healthcare, but it remains to be seen how that outrage will translate into meaningful change within the industry.
I know that patients are going to require something different than what they’re experiencing today as they start to see their healthcare costs increasing. I think the other big change for patients is going to center around how patients use data to inform the choices they make in healthcare, particularly as the options for treatment expand.
Which to choose? You’ve got your primary provider, telemedicine, convenient care (whatever that is), urgent care, retail health care, and the hospital emergency room. In some cases, patients can even go to specialists directly. Having this wide selection of care providers is going to require patients to look carefully at the data to decide where and when to go.
Q: What should patients expect from providers in terms of protecting healthcare records and providing secure online health services, like telemedicine? How does the consumer ensure providers are utilizing the best security practices?
A: I take a somewhat different view on this than most people. I’ve reached the point where I pretty much acknowledge that privacy doesn’t exist. I just assume that this health-related information is already out there and that people already have this information. And so we should enjoy the benefit of the personalization of the access to care that can be provided.
I do think there are some thoughtful things you can do right now. You can check the websites of health providers to ensure that they’re using the best security services currently available. And you can also take somewhat greater care in selecting the information you choose to share.
But I think it’s perhaps more sensible to focus on the background of the company. If it’s a well-funded company that has people who have worked in healthcare and who understand the requirements on things like HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), then that gives me some confidence in them and the diligence with which they would protect my privacy.
Q: What do you see as the greatest challenge to the expansion of telemedicine services to a broader segment of consumers? Is trust an issue?
A: Trust is an issue, but I think it’s trust from a different perspective than most people think. Let me share a story. I was working at a medical practice and was about to head off to speak at a conference, but I got sick the day before my flight was to leave. So I went to one of the doctors I’d been working with on IT matters at a student health center. I just told him I was about to leave but had a raging cough, a bit of a sore throat, and a runny nose.
As I walked into his office, he whipped out his prescription pad, writes me a script, and hands it to me, saying, “John, get this, and you’ll be fine.” I looked at him and said, “Hey, wait a minute, don’t we have to go down the hall to an exam room? Don’t you have to listen to my lungs and check my throat for inflammation?” As the words were coming out, it became apparent to me that he had been able to diagnose me on the fly, based on my cough, runny nose, and description of other symptoms.
So I think the ability of doctors to quickly evaluate symptoms and to make a decision on treatment eliminates many of the trust issues as they relate to telemedicine.
Obviously there are other considerations such as quality of care and comfort. But perhaps the biggest other issue with telemedicine is the question of who will pay for the service. And based on my conversations with health insurance executives, most have no objection to covering telemedicine services, but they want to be sure that they’re paying for services that were actually delivered. And that they’re not being scammed by providers billing for telemedicine visits that never occurred.
Q: What kind of other technological advances do you foresee in healthcare?
A: Ambient voice technology, already in use to some degree, could improve things immensely for both providers and patients. I imagine something like Alexa in the exam room listening to what’s happening between the doctor and the patient, recording it, and then applying voice recognition technology and natural language processing to understand what’s being said and by whom.
These exchanges would be documented, saving the doctor the chore of writing in the patient’s chart and giving the patient an accurate record of what the doctor said. By its very nature, telemedicine is making this normal for us, since such interactions are recorded and thus memorialized.
This interview has been edited and condensed.