Technology Improvements Support Healthcare Delivery

Following the Earthquake of the Seattle fault ten years ago, road closures and infrastructure damage made it very difficult to provide even a basic standard of healthcare immediately after the shaking commenced. Thus, the need for improvements in the healthcare services within the city became a number one priority for many agencies and organizations. These improvements brought great strides to integrating the technology advancements we’ve had into the services provided by healthcare providers.

This story is a work of fiction, including all names and quotes, written by WWU DRR students for public education purposes. Site design by Dr. Scott Miles.

The last decade has proven to display Seattle’s initiative to improve the healthcare response, efficiency, quality, and have even made strides toward mobilizing doctors to provide services and medications to those who may not easily go to the hospital or pharmacist. With the aid from local companies such as Microsoft, CDW, UW Medicine, and many more, the standard of healthcare during disaster events or times of mass emergency will no longer be diminished.

Through cloud collaboration, the sharing of medical histories, patient information, and evidence of insurance coverage (EOC) may be accessed by any accredited physician. This allows for quick and efficient medical care no matter where the patient may visit. These new improvements also allow for virtual checkup over an encrypted online video chat when physically visiting the hospital may be difficult due to road closures or other issues. Our patients may then receive in-home consultations if mobilization continues to be a problem. And finally, by issuing activity trackers for patients with recurring medical needs we can now monitor daily rates of pulse, blood pressure, blood/ sugar content, and sleeping patterns to better assess the situation.

With so many road closures following the quake, the need to mobilize our healthcare services quickly became apparent. If patients could not reach the hospital, we would have to bring the hospital to them. This attitude was quickly adopted by many collaborative industries to create what many refer to as “Mobile Medicine.”

These innovative machines allow for healthcare professionals to service a route of homes where otherwise immobile populations reside. Communities such as retirement homes, disabled persons, and rehabilitation centers have been serviced by these mobile medicine buses and many continue to visit difficult to reach facilities today. The driving forces behind this movement came from local organizations and businesses such as UW Medicine, Verizon, and multiple custom automotive companies. Professional collaboration made possible through Cloud communication allowed for a rapid implementation of this program following the quake.

After an initiation visit, these patients then have the option to receive a video chat check up with an on call physician. These calls can be administered with the help of the onsite nurses in these homes and facilities to aid the offsite patients with little technical knowledge. However, most independently living patients are proving to have difficulties maneuvering through the interface and others do not have internet access in home.

These issues have created public disapproval, but soon the more user-friendly interface will be implemented into this program and those without internet access may soon qualify for a free or reduced rate on an in-home Wi-Fi hotspot and hospital issued rental tablet. These improvements are in efforts to increase patient participation and to further the efficiency this system has displayed since its implementation. Thanks to this “Mobile Medicine” program, thousands of lives have been saved and local health betterment has been made possible even through the pressing times of immobilization and lack of utilities.

If patients were motivated to engage in healthier lifestyles then public health could be greatly improved and the amount of patients would ultimately decline. This concept lit the way for a new program implemented just a few years ago to issue activity trackers to those whom may greatly benefit from adding more movement and exercise to their daily lives. Devices such as “Continuous Glucose Monitors” have been a very popular choice for patients with diabetes in recent years.

Now, according to the University of California- San Francisco (UCSF), similar devices referred to as trackers are being used to measure “weight, diet, and exercise… adults are also tracking some other indicator or symptom, such as blood sugar, blood pressure, heachaches or sleep patterns; and caregivers are monitoring health indicators for loved ones” (UCSF 2012). These devices are now being called “behavior modification devices” to boost marketability.

And it’s working.

The hospitals are seeing health improvements across King County and seem to have effective motivated and empowered residents to enrich their lives. Insurance companies have even recognized these improvements and now discussing potential offers of reduced life insurance rates and health insurance cost reductions.

However, approval through Washington State AppleCare is currently the only entity discussing the matter, but public approval has been seen across the board. The only obstacle seems to be ensuring that the patient is in fact the one providing the data. There stands no way of knowing that friends or family members would not wear a patient’s issued tracker in attempt to gain reduced insurance rates. We will see as time goes on what this personalized medicine and patient engagement might provide for in years to come. The potential benefits promise to be quite beneficial for healthcare providers, technology vendors, and patients alike if accountability can be enforced rather than expected.

The promising Virtualization of King County healthcare has shown great strides toward accessibility and increased efficiency. New innovative implementations such as the Cloud Collaboration, Video Check-Ups, fiber optic installations, and activity tracking have vastly improved local health standards since their introduction ten years ago when the Seattle quake was fresh. Now we continue to promote these advancements throughout the industry. Particularly popular is the embrace of the Cloud reliant systems being used throughout the county.

Skeptics argue that the dependency on these systems will ultimately devastate our community upon the collapse of this publically misunderstood technological installation. And thus, we have asked an expert in the facetimefield to shed light on the subject in order to purge doubtful participation.

Brad Stevens, an Associate Consulting Engineer for Cloud Services, states that these “external datacenters mostly consist of storage space typically held in ultra-reliable datacenters with multiple locations of redundancy.”

This means that even in the case of a localized event similar to the Seattle Fault just a decade ago, the vital information required for healthcare services and operations will remain available and accessible for immediate use.

Stevens also describes the virtually unlimited computational and data storage capacities of these systems to be an “extremely beneficial addition to the healthcare of King County with promising potential.”

The recent use of cloud collaboration has allowed for improvements in providing health history between sister hospitals, showing evidence of insurance coverage, immediate data sharing between patient-doctor-insurance (especially helpful with the recent trend of activity tracker use), and has brought down the cost of administrative work in the field. Although current requirements for security remain as a modern concern.

According to the Cloud Standards Customer Council (CSCC), “Healthcare data has stringent requirements for security, confidentiality, availability to authorized users, traceability of access, reversibility of data, and long-term preservation. Hence, cloud vendors need to account for all these while conforming to government and industry regulations” (CSCC 2012).

These requirements continue to be of concern to patients and technological vendors alike. As the use of these services grow in popularity, public understanding and approval will inevitably become mainstream allowing for greater participation. But the question still remains. What if the access to internet is obstructed?

To avoid the loss of internet access and ensure that speeds are not hindered upon a limited bandwidth, fiber optic cables have been installed multiple local hospitals across the county. These optical fiber networks offer less interference, great bandwidth, digital transmission (versus analog transmission through copper wire), and a lighter load of material than traditional copper networks. However, these new network also come with a few concerning disadvantages as well. Although the speeds and natural functionality of digital computation offer greater service, optical fiber is also more fragile and difficult to splice.

Because of these new susceptible attributes, greater precautions were taken to protect these networks by installing short segments that meet at “fiber channels.” These channels allow for sections of damaged fiber lines to be quickly replaced without compromising large portions of the entire network. Thus, in the event of another earthquake or any similar hazard, the hospitals investments may be protected.

Although the speed and reliability of these networks are unmatched, their installation does not come cheap. Due to limited funding and most of the materials coming from organizations such as the Fred and Angel Garbo Foundation and federal funds, these networks have only been installed in portions of several hospitals including: UW Medical Center, Harbor View Medical Center, and Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue. When funds become available for use, the city hopes to install a several mile radius of fiber surrounding these hospitals to provide the base for a new form of improved internet service. Soon the city will enjoy the benefits of computation and the literal speed of light.