News and notes: Cool healthcare tech, telemed pushback and more

It’s Friday afternoon, and I realize it’s been days since I’ve posted here. (Make sure you catch my posts on EMR and HIPAA every Thursday, including my latest on Dr. Larry Weed and his critiques of current health IT systems.) I think it’s time for a rundown of some interesting developments this week.

Weed apparently is not the only one who’s disappointed in the pace of change in healthcare. Dr. Bill Crounse, senior director of worldwide health for Microsoft, was at the World of Health IT conference in Budapest, Hungary, to deliver some scathing remarks at about North American health IT. According to Canadian Healthcare Technology, Crounse called the U.S. and Canada the “worst of the worst in the industrialized world in the use of IT in healthcare.”

He explained: “I see physicians in perhaps less developed countries bypassing all that legacy technology and using commodity off-the-shelf contemporary solutions, using tablets and speech recognition and doing their discharges, all with technology that costs pennies on the dollar, and then I come home to America and look at these $150 million systems and say, ‘wouldn’t we be better spending that on patient care instead of IT?'”

EMRs just store health information, Crounse said. “It’s really what you do next that counts. Once we have information digitized, that doesn’t buy you value. It’s what you do with the information, how you use it to manage care, and to collaborate.”

While we’re talking about overseas events, Hello Doctor, a telemedicine service in South Africa, apparently is on hold less than a month after its April 17 launch. In an e-mail newsletter (not available on the Web, as far as I can tell), Telemedicine & E-Health reported:

Under fire from South Africa’s healthcare bureaucracy, Hello Doctor has suspended its telemedicine services, pending a meeting between representatives of the company and the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). The council referred to its undesirable business practice committee Hello Doctor and two companies that have announced plans to offer a joint telemedicine service later this year, MTN Group and Sanlam. HPCSA has alleged that the companies violated rules that require a healthcare practitioner to do a physical examination and assess a patient before a diagnosis can be made. [News Alert, May 6 ]. HPCSA is drafting its own guidelines for telemedicine, an emerging competitor to nationally-licensed doctors.

The South African Medical Association also is fighting the service. “”It is no different from blind-dating. How sure are you whether you are getting the real doctor or not?” SAMA Chairman Dr. Norman Mabasa told Independent Online. Hmm, aren’t these the same kinds of objections we see in America? When will the medical establishment wake up and see that telemedicine is not a threat to their authority?

Well, at least some physicians are embracing new technologies. That’s the subject of a feature I just had published on Medscape,  “10 Totally Cool and Incredibly Useful Medical Gadgets: Technology That’s Changing Medical Care.” Feel free to argue with me and add your own.

And speaking about telehealth and arguing with me, I was the victim of intimidation of the media this week. A certain story I wrote about a telemedicine technology vendor was pulled from the Web yesterday after the company threatened to sue the small company that published it. The company accused me of writing a “defamatory” story and wondered if a competitor didn’t actually help me write the piece. Sorry, but I have a lot more integrity than that. I also was accused of mischaracterizing the state of the deactivated ambulance telemedicine service in Tucson, Ariz., which I said was “failed.”

The accuser referred to an April article in Telemedicine & E-Health written by Dr. Rifat Latifi, one of the driving forces behind Tucson ER-Link, and several colleagues that showed the efficacy of ER-Link in performing remote intubation. That’s great, but there needs to be a working network to support the “videolaryngoscope.” Tucson, unfortunately, no longer has one.