The Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation will be holding its 2014 Transform Symposium Sept. 7-9. The event offers both in-person and online opportunities to participate. I will be part of an online panel discussion on Monday, September 8, from Noon to 1 p.m. CT, addressing virtual care with several experts from the Mayo Clinic, including Dr. Douglas Wood. A practicing cardiologist, Dr. Wood spends half his time seeing patients with complex cardiologic problems and the other half as the Medical Director for the Center for Innovation. I caught up with Dr. Wood recently to talk more about virtual care and where we’re headed in the future.

 

Intel: What is the future of virtual healthcare?

 

Wood: To Mayo Clinic, the future of virtual health is really the future of healthcare. Healthcare today is more illness care than anything else. Most often we wait for people to have symptoms or illnesses and then we have them come and see us in a clinic or an emergency room or a hospital. The technologies that are available now to enable virtual health can become tools for us to help people make good decisions about their health. Delivering care virtually, and in a different way from today, is really a fundamental aspect of healthcare of the future.

 

Intel: How do we make the transition to virtual care?

 

Wood: The transition from traditional models of care to virtual health is challenging for some physicians, and for some patients. After all, many physicians have been trained in a method of delivering care one person at a time during a 15-minute visit. We can be free of all of the problems related to that system by using new methods of care. Physicians should devote their time to patients who really need their expertise. For others, we could deliver care with a virtual visit or an email interaction. This gives us a chance to let physicians use their skills in the most productive way possible, and at the same time, allows patients to get their needs met in the most efficient way possible so that we don’t always make them come into the facility.

 

Intel: What needs to be done to make virtual care a reality?

 

Wood: Studies we’ve conducted showed us that physicians were really necessary for only about 6 percent of clinic interactions. A large number of the other interactions could have been provided by advanced practice nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, dieticians, or even non-licensed people. A certain number of visits didn’t even need to occur in the context of going to a clinic. We could’ve delivered information to them at home, at school, or in the grocery store where they’re shopping. Our current system of care does not permit this to happen because we are constrained by our existing payment systems. Why should we stick to a system that creates so much generalized unhappiness when we have an opportunity to do something that would be much more satisfying, and more productive, for everybody—physicians, nurses, and patients?

 

Intel: How is technology advancing the possibility of virtual care?

 

Wood: Technology is a part of everything we do in the Center for Innovation. We are thinking about how we can improve an interaction that we have with a person coming for our care, and using different technologies to learn much more about them when they arrive. Right now we acquire information by listening and then parroting that data to a dictated format that’s not searchable and not useful. We need to use natural language processing or other kinds of technologies to make the information easier to acquire and analyze. Then we are helping physicians come to better decisions about what additional diagnostic studies or even treatments might be appropriate.

 

Intel: Who will lead this effort toward virtual health? Will it be collaborative?

 

Wood: It’s important to recognize that innovation is really collaboration, so partners are absolutely essential to success. We believe that innovation begins with fundamentally understanding the needs of people and then looking at ways that we can meet those needs. We don’t need to invent solutions that are already around. There are many technologies that we could adopt rapidly with little modification. There are other technologies that we would need to adapt. The point is we don’t need to spend our time in the Center for Innovation at Mayo Clinic doing any of that work. We instead should be looking for partners who can help us move faster with our implementation. So partners like Intel are absolutely critical to our success. On the other hand, we are concerned about blindly applying technologic solutions without really understanding what people need.