By: Gintautas Dumcius
BOSTON - You get an email telling you to log on and see your lab results online.
During visits to your doctor's office, you notice there are fewer filing cabinets.
And when the doctor is standing in front of you, he or she is using a tablet instead of writing things down.
The future is here and more is on the way: Sensors, which if installed into pill bottles would be able to register when the bottle is lighter and what time it occurred.
"If you have a senior citizen you're caring for, you might be able to monitor remotely through your smartphone, 'has my aging parent taken their medicine or have they not,'" says Katie Stebbins, who previously held jobs with the city of Springfield and the Holyoke Innovation District.
Stebbins now works as Gov. Charlie Baker's assistant secretary for innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.
Baker's office recently announced she's been tapped as co-chairman of a new 33-member Digital Healthcare Council. Dr. Jeffrey Leiden, president and CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, is also a co-chairman. Joel Vengco, vice president and chief information officer at Baystate Health, and Laurie Leshin, president of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute are also among the members.
Doctors will be able to monitor patients on specialty drugs in real-time with a new technology developed by InterVRx and the expertise of UMass Medical School's Clinical Pharmacy Services division.
One of the goals of the council is to ensure the economic development brought about by digital health care extends to all corners of the state. According to Stebbins, the Bay State is "well-positioned" to be a leader in digital health due to its education and healthcare sectors, as well as a "strong cyber security ecosystem."
"In this enormously fast-paced world of digitizing health care, the fear of a digitized health care is that my record won't be private, that privatization is going to be tricky and how do we keep records secure and how do we keep devices secure and not hackable," she said.
MassLive.com sat down with Stebbins in her Ashburton Place office, across the street from the Massachusetts State House. The following interview has been edited and condensed.
MASSLIVE.COM: What is digital healthcare?
STEBBINS: It's easiest to think about digital healthcare if you think about your own health experience. You suddenly realize that your health record is becoming a digital document. You also see things like for people who are aging, there's really interesting technology [like sensors] making sure you've taken your meds.
It's not so much thinking about what specifically is digital health care, it's about recognizing that health care is simply becoming more digitized in many facets of our life.
Is it going to create efficiencies?
Yes, the ultimate outcome is that you are on that sort of ratio, costs are going down and outcomes are going up. Your value proposition is improved. Ultimately that is what we want to see happening. And where you can pull efficiencies out of the system and at the same time improve outcomes for patients, that's the nexus that you want to try to achieve and there's a lot of different ways that we're going about that.
Are there any specific partnerships happening we should keep an eye on?
If you look at what UMass Medical is doing partnering with WPI in Worcester, they do some really great things with private sector companies. We have so many big companies. You have not only our hospitals but you have Athena, Optum, Vertex. You have hospitals, you have the payers, you have Harvard Pilgrim, Blue Cross Blue Shield. Then you have all the technologists and the engineers. And then you have all the scientists. All of the major research institutions right now are working on different forms of this.
As digital health care is gaining momentum, the technology of the sensor itself will also evolve rapidly. So there's an edge in how do you develop and invent and scale models for new technologies. And then how do you manufacture it here? How do we make sure we're not just inventing the next wearable here but also how are we manufacturing it here?
Rather than shipping the jobs out to another countries.
Yes. There are so many different aspects of this. For instance, UMass Amherst is looking at how do you mass-produce flexible electronic sensors which would go into soft robotics, in wearable devices and different things where you need a flexible sensor, and how do you mass manufacture in Massachusetts. Northeastern University is looking at how you produce nano-sensors at scale. And how would we manufacture those. It's not just - it's so many things.
Ultimately, do we think digital health care will allow us to deliver better health care to more people more efficiently at a lower cost, yes, that's the goal. And we're in a digital revolution, right? So financial services, and shopping and all sorts of things - we're going through this digital revolution, it's happening in our world.
[Laughs.] Electronic tolling, gantries, right? You could be able to drive under a gantry and suddenly know what your heart rate is, your blood pressure, and whether you need to go to the doctor, as well as you're late paying your toll bill. You know, who knows? And so like any digital revolution that's happening in any sector, health care's no different.
It's got a lot of opportunity on a population level. If you just think about people being served for behavioral health and acute care, and their medical records not being all in the same place, and they may have prescriptions that are in five different places, and you don't have a doctor sitting in front of a patient with all the information they need to properly treat them. That alone, that alone if it's something we can fix, we can help the lead the way on, I think is incredibly important.
Could something like the state's life sciences initiative, a billion dollars over ten years, be in the offing?
This is what I would say: The digital health care council has only met once. It is charged with coming up with a strategy that will be done in August 2017. And we will be working on a consensus-based strategy that is with the stakeholders, that is with the governor, to make sure we get to something in August that we feel can allow us to continue to be very competitive and lead the country and even the world in this digital health care space. We don't know what that's going to look like yet. But if we can create a coalition approach that really squeezes out a bigger sum than the individual parts, I think we're going to be way ahead of the game.