Telemedicine: Transforming Health Care
For years, we’ve heard that telemedicine is on the brink of transforming health care.
The Wall Street Journal says that this time — it’s really going to happen.
“Driven by faster internet connections, ubiquitous smartphones and changing insurance standards, more health providers are turning to electronic communications to do their jobs—and it’s upending the delivery of health care,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Doctors are linking up with patients by phone, email and webcam. They’re also consulting with each other electronically—sometimes to make split-second decisions on heart attacks and strokes. Patients, meanwhile, are using new devices to relay their blood pressure, heart rate and other vital signs to their doctors so they can manage chronic conditions at home.”
The advancements in telemedicine already being seen at the margins. Doctors Without Borders uses it on a daily basis to help physicians in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s also getting implemented in St. Louis, where Mercy health system has developed a new Virtual Care Center. This “hospital without beds” remotely supports intensive-care units, emergency rooms and other programs at more than three dozen smaller hospitals.
In the TeleICU section, critical-care doctors sit at oversize video monitors that continually collect data on every far-flung ICU patient and can spot signs of imminent trouble,” the Journal reports. “If a patient needs attention, Mercy physicians can zoom in via two-way camera—close enough to read the tiny print on an IV bag.”
As promised, Mercy’s telemedicine has helped reduce patients average length of stay by 35% with 30% fewer deaths than anticipated.
Brexit & Your Health
Brexit has dominated the headlines since last Thursday’s historic vote. If you’ve glance at your 401k balance, you’ve noticed that the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union has ripple effects on the rest of the world. So, what does Brexit mean for patients.
Stat News reports that one of the biggest effects for patients will be the relocation of the European Medicines Agency — the European counterpart to the Food and Drug Administration. In the coming months and years, that will mean more than 600 London-based drug regulators are likely to be relocated to the continent.
“No country has ever decided to leave the EU, so there is no precedent for this situation,” an spokeswoman told Stat News, adding that it’s “too early to foresee the implications of this decision” and that the EMA will share more when it has “concrete information.”
An Independent FDA
Europeans aren’t the only patients that could see big changes at their health safety bureacracy.
Politico reports that six former FDA commissioners are calling “on Congress to make the agency independent, raising its profile and power by taking it out from under the umbrella of the Department of Health and Human Services.”
“The FDA is trapped in a structural problem,” said Andrew von Eschenbach, an FDA commissioner during the Bush administration from 2005 to 2009.
Under the reshuffling proposed by the half dozen former FDA commissioners, the Agency could become a Cabinet-level post or independence akin to the Federal Trade Commission or the Securities and Exchange Commission. They argued that the FDA, which regulates more than a quarter of the economy and deals with critical food and drug safety, is harmed by bureaucracy, meddling politicians and confusing budgetary lines in Congress.
“The micromanagement from on top has probably gotten to the point where an independent agency is necessary,” said David Kessler, commissioner under both George H. Bush and Bill Clinton. “There are 150 people in between the commissioner and the president, and they all think they’re your boss — that’s the problem.”
We share the concern that bureaucracy is harmful to patients. However, as we’re currently seeing with CMS’s experiment, unelected regulators can also reduce patients’ involvement in the process.
Congress Stalls Zika Funding
As researchers continue to move forward on human trials for a Zika vaccine, Congress remains gridlocked on the a plan to increase federal funding for research.
Morning Consult reports that Senate Democrats are vowing to block the House version of the Zika funding bill. That means federal funding for Zika won’t reach President Obama’s desk until lawmakers return to Washington after the 4th of July recess.
The difference between Republicans and Democrats is a textbook case of Washington disfunction. The disagreement isn’t over policy or even the size of the budget — it’s a fight over accounting. Under the Republican plan, the feds would provide $1.1 billion for Zika, of which $750 million is an offset from other existing funding. “Democrats have said for months that Zika qualifies as an emergency and should therefore not include offsets,” Politico reports.
House Speaker Paul Ryan took a shot at his Democratic colleagues “sit-in,” saying they were more interested in stunts that serious policy.
“You think they were interested in coming to the mike and debating Zika? Of course not,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said. “They were screaming and shouting over each other.”