Thursday, April 09, 2009

M*A*S*H Meets Mac

Every once in a while, we're asked to review a product or service. We've reviewed a book, for example, and a ground-breaking excercise in transparency. Recently, I received an email from a company called Healthagen touting a new iPhone app called iTriage.
[ed: I actually own an iPod Touch, which is essentially an iPhone sans camera, microphone and, well, phone.]
I decided to give the app a whirl, and downloaded it from the iTunes store (paying, I might add, full retail; no swag for me!). The purpose of iTriage is to act as a sort of, well, triage unit for helping one decide the nature and severity of one's symptoms, and to help one decide if and where to go for help. The iPhone's built-in GPS and phone capability enable the program to, for example, dial 9-1-1 if appropriate, or find the nearest ER or pharmacy.
To "enable" the software, one must create an account, supplying an email address and zip code, as well as one's insurer. The first two I understand, but why the insurer? And how is this program a "step-up" from, say, WebMD?
Those questions, and a few others, prompted me to seek an interview with one of the program's developers. What I got, though, was perhaps even better: Healthagen's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Wayne Guerra. Dr Guerra, and his business partner Peter Hudson, are both emergency medicine physicians and collectively have taken care of over 50,000 patients. Having watched their patients struggle to make difficult medical decisions with only limited information, and they were motivated to develop iTriage to empower their patients. The point is to narrow the information gap that currently exists by giving patients medical information, transparency around price and quality, and access to healthcare facilities at the point of care [ed: all major themes here at IB]. Users need this information when they are having, for example, abdominal pain, or when they have just injured their ankle. The most useful method of providing this information was with a mobile device. Dr Guerra says that implementing all the features of iTriage was not possible until the iPhone 2.0 OS was released.
For our readers who may not be familiar with the app, I asked how iTriage differs from something like WebMD? After all, many folks have 'net access on their phones, or have other portable computing devices available to access such resources. so what sets iTriage apart?
Dr Guerra replied that "iTriage starts where other content sites like WebMD stop," by providing “actionable data”. This is information that calls for a decision to be made, perhaps whether more information is needed, to ask for advice, or assist in finding a medical facility at which one may obtain medical care.
By way of example, Dr Guerra gave a rather common symptom: abdominal pain: "Let’s say you have lower abdominal pain. You search this symptom and iTriage produces the possible causes. You select appendicitis and read the description, common symptoms, standard work-up and expected treatment. After this information you can decide to use the search the web for more information including images and videos, get advice from a nurse or a doctor, or decide to find an appropriate treatment facility. If you choose to obtain medical care iTriage will only list appropriate healthcare facilities from its proprietary lists of over 6,000 emergency departments, 5,000 urgent care facilities and 1,000 retail clinics. Only an emergency department can treat appendicitis and iTriage will geo-locate the phone and list the closest emergency departments enabling the user to call or get a map to the facility. iTriage helps users select a facility by enabling them to buy a HealthGrades quality report through the phone and by learning about the hospital’s specialty services through text or videos." It even helps with the financial aspect by connecting with the bill negotiation services of Coalition America.
Before one can begin using iTriage, one must create an account. This involves supplying an email address and zip code, and also the name of one's insurer (if applicable). There's no personally identifiable info (save for, perhaps, the email). I was puzzled as to why the app wanted to know the name of my carrier.
According to Dr Guerra, the current version of iTriage "uses the medical insurance information to provide users with the appropriate nurse advice number. In the future, iTriage will be able to recommend treatment facilities based on network data; this will enable users to obtain the most cost effective healthcare solutions."
Finally, I asked what's in store for the future. Cuurently, Dr Guerra, et al are "developing a web based and .mobi version of iTriage, and expect to launch these functions in May of 2009. This implementation will greatly expand the reach of iTriage and enable those without an iPhone to use the services. iTriage has established partnerships with TelaDoc, HealthGrades and Coalition America. Healthagen, the parent company of iTriage is pursuing other partnerships to bring our users more granularity around pricing, and other features that will help them make better medical decisions."
That's certainly something to look forward to.
A warm InsureBlog Thank You to Dr Guerra for his time and participation, and to Alicia Verity for alerting us to the product and helping to arrange the interview with Dr Guerra.
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