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Healthcare Startup, Boosted By Pandemic, Wants To Alleviate Fears Before And After Surgery

PatientPartner, which helps surgery patients connect with each other, is seeing rapid growth during the pandemic.

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PatientPartner founders George Kramb and Patrick Frank

May 13, 2021 – Imagine the pit of anxiety in the stomach of a patient being wheeled into the operating room, still asking the doctors and nurses basic questions like what they can and can’t do post-surgery. Shouldn’t they have asked those before going under the knife?

George Kramb and Patrick Frank said they saw these experiences on a consistent basis – Kramb as a healthcare worker and Frank in the experience of his mother who had a life-threatening surgical complication that could have been avoided had she been educated about her options.

In response to these experiences, Kramb and Frank created PatientPartner, a digital service that connects patients with former patients who have already had a surgery and can be a friend to talk to before and after the surgery.

In an interview with Broadband Breakfast, the co-founders said using algorithms based on a relatability matrix, patients are connected with those who are most similar to them to form the best possible bond during their surgical journey. PatientPartner said its patients felt 70 percent more prepared for surgery by having a PatientPartner to talk to beforehand, and that 65 percent of patients had an increase in procedure satisfaction.

The company is only about three years old and partners with hospitals and doctors to expand its network. The company has thousands of users spread across southern California where it started, and has expanded to major cities including Phoenix, Arizona, Dallas, Texas, and Las Vegas.

The co-founders shared how the Covid-19 pandemic affected their company. The healthcare industry moves incredibly slow when it comes to adopting new technology. But the pandemic “instantaneously changed” healthcare providers and saw rapid acceptance of their PatientPartner platform.

Digital solutions like PatientPartner connected doctors with patients who were connected in real-time with former patients to qualm their fears about surgery in ways that haven’t been done before.

To address privacy problems, Kramb maintained that every patient who signs up to be a PatientPartner for someone planning to have surgery, is thoroughly vetted. Not anyone can be a PatientPartner, and last names are not disclosed to protect privacy and thwart bad actors.

Expense for the service is not a barrier either, as neither the patient nor the partner are charged for signing up and joining PatientPartner.

“Healthcare is a very vulnerable subject,” Frank said. It is a scary process for many, and people want a more intimate experience that has more emotion rather than purely an operational perspective—something that only a doctor could give when preparing for surgery.

Born in China and adopted to American Fork, Utah, Reporter Derek Shumway graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor's degree in political science and a minor in international strategy and diplomacy. At college, he started an LED lightbulb company. word

Expert Opinion

Craig Settles: Libraries, Barbershops and Salons Tackle TeleHealthcare Gap

Craig Settles describes the important role that community institutions have played in promoting connectivity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Photo of Urban Kutz Barbershops owner Waverly Willis getting his blood pressure checked used with permission

Today, Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass., Senator Chris Van Hollen,D-Maryland, and Representative Grace Meng, D-N.Y., led 40 members of Congress to introduce the Securing Universal Communications Connectivity to Ensure Students Succeed (SUCCESS) Act. The bill would extend the Emergency Connectivity Fund by five years and provide $8 billion a year to schools and libraries for student connectivity off-campus.

Barbershops and hair salons are long-time anchor institutions in African-American communities that have shown promise for advancing telehealth. Their partnering with libraries (a broadband anchor institution), and the Biden Administration’s enlisting of 1,000 shops and salons to help combat COVID-19, telehealth and public health in these communities could go into overdrive.

Missing their July 4 COVID-19 vaccination goals, the Biden Administration raised money to transform the shops into mini-medical centers. This success is motivating shop owners to do more. As one of the targets for $7 billion in broadband funds, libraries are idea partners that can provide broadband services, digital content, and digital and health literacy shops’ customers. 

Mike Brown manages a barbershop in Hyattsville, Maryland, and participated in the vaccination program. Brown and others owners talks with their customer about how the vaccines have been proven to work. “I use my platform to advocate for truth and dispel myths,” said Mr. Brown in an Wall Street Journal article, who has also held a vaccination clinic in his shop. “I’ve gotten about 60% of my clients to get vaccinated.”

The program has opened shop owners’ eyes to the power they have to make a difference in the healthcare of their communities. It’s a logical transition from the vaccination program to hypertension screening. Urban Kutz Barbershops in Cleveland have been screening customers for 12 years, recently with telehealth assistance from the famed Cleveland Clinic’s. 

Owner Waverley Willis says “Barbers and hairdressers are part-time marriage counselors, psychiatrists, spiritual advisers, and expert listeners. So many customers listen to our medical advice.” He has made a noticeable impact on many of his customers’ healthy eating habits as well.

Think differently about broadband, public health and telehealth

On July 1, the Federal Communications Commission began a 45-day Emergency Connectivity Fund of $7.1 billion in broadband and digital technology funding to support libraries and schools. By August 13, libraries interested in grants from the program must present a proposal on how they plan to spend money for libraries laptops, hotspots, Internet services, and other resources to advance education and remote learning. 

A generous interpretation of “education“ enables libraries to serve any patrons with broadband. If libraries are situated in areas in which there are no ISP services, they can request money from ECF to build their own broadband infrastructure for unserved patrons. Unlike traditional E-rate proposals, ECF doesn’t require a competitive bid for services, meaning libraries can present a quote from the first vender they contact.

Libraries partnering with shops and healthcare organization could give shops laptops, telehealth software, and portable hotspots to provide hypertension screening and other healthcare services that are suited to their customers’ needs up to three years. Shop owners often don’t have computing devices or Internet access in their shops. Telehealth devices such as portable digital blood pressure monitors and digital scales will have to be provided separately and possibly through funds from another government agency such as Health & Human Services.

For hypertension screening, for example, shops can take customers’ blood pressures digitally. The healthcare provider takes that data through telehealth and recommends treatment when necessary or advisable. The partner likely would have established rates for their healthcare services. Shops can then decide on additional telehealth services they want to provide.

The shops could work with libraries to develop health information and interactive Web content to reduce hypertension and other medical issues through healthier living, plus the libraries can provide telehealth services beyond what the shops can do.  

Libraries and shops can also designate customers who need a laptop, hotspots and telehealth software for chronic illnesses such as severe hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, mental health treatments, and so forth. However, these devices in this scenario would need to be given out for longer periods then just a couple of weeks. For occasional medical appointments, libraries can loan out laptops and hotspots for limited times such as two or three weeks. Libraries are good at delivering digital training and literacy programs.

Why barbershops, hair salons and libraries? 

Facilitating telehealth and healthcare does have an educational element for barbershop and hair salon customers as well as for general library patrons. These health services and information help both groups of people learn more about their own health, enables them to react effectively to medical issues, and be more proactive in taking care of their health.  

The ability for shops and salons to reach and impact African-American communities is legendary. “This type of barbershop health initiative has been shown to be effective,” said Cameron Webb, a senior White House health equity adviser on the coronavirus. Willis adds, “On more than one occasion, a guy’s blood pressure would be so high we would urge him to skip the haircut and go straight to the emergency room.”

The author of this opinion is municipal broadband expert and industry analyst Craig Settles.

Libraries have years of experience introducing new technology such as broadband to underserved populations. Matt McLain, Associate Director for Community Engagement at Salt Lake County Library, said, “We’ve had a pretty good amount of success reaching Hispanic populations at their markets. We have Asian markets out here too. And our health initiatives are quite important with the church leadership in these communities.”

The healthcare and broadband gaps are real and they are deadly! So many elements of the COVID pandemic reiterates the deadliness of those gaps. According to the Centers for Disease Control, of the data collected as of June 14 nearly two-thirds of people who got at least one dose of the vaccine were White. Only 9% were African-Americans. 14 million urban household cannot get any broadband, without which you cannot get telehealth, and 75% are Black or other people of color. 

There may never be as many federal broadband and health-related grant programs as we are seeing now. Partnership potential between libraries and haircare shops are many. Will public health practitioners and advocates, broadband builders, and community leaders step up?

Craig Settles conducts needs analyses with community stakeholders who want broadband networks to improve economic development, healthcare, education and local government. He hosts the radio talk show Gigabit Nation, and is Director of Communities United for Broadband, a national grass roots effort to assist communities launching their networks. He recently created a guide to help librarians uncover patrons’ healthcare needs, create community health milestones and effectively market telehealth. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Institutions Must Continue Riding Telehealth Growth Momentum for Post-Pandemic Care

Governments and health providers have an opportunity to carry the momentum of 2020 for telehealth’s future.

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Anthem President Gail Boudreaux

July 15, 2021 — The average healthcare organization completed two years’ worth of digital transformation during the first two months of the pandemic, according to IDC Health Insights data. This is only the beginning of telehealth advancement, and governments and health providers should continue to push for further development even after the pandemic slows, the Western Governor’s Association said in a virtual event last month.

The WGA launched its Western Prosperity Roundtable to work on policies such as telehealth and other technologies that have the potential to connect unserved and underserved communities.

While telehealth technologies have been gaining traction for some time, the past year led to a tremendous increase in usage. David Pryor, regional vice president and medical director for Anthem Inc., said that 2020 saw 80 times more utilization of telehealth than the year prior.

With the help of innovation, health centers were able to pivot from in-person care to digital. Digital kiosks have been implemented in states such as California to help improve specialty care and decrease language barriers. These kiosks give patients access to cameras put them in touch with healthcare professionals for important services including mental health.

Empirical experiences

In one experience that Pryor shared from a frontline women’s health clinic in California, a deaf patient came in for an exam and the clinic was able to utilize the video feature with a sign language interpreter on the digital kiosk. “The patient started to cry because she [had] never had such a caring visit,” Pryor said.

Technology advancement has created opportunities for those that previously were overlooked, including rural communities that were forced to commute long distances to receive healthcare and urban centers that lacked options.

The WGA aimed for the panel to push state legislators to continue increasing healthcare access for their constituents through digitalization.

Some states have established their ongoing commitment to telehealth already. In a statement released in August 2020, the Governors of Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington shared their goals to support telehealth services for residents of their states. “Telehealth is here to stay.” they wrote. “We will have individual state-driven approaches to implementing telehealth policies, but our work will be guided by seven overarching principles: access, confidentiality, equity, standard of care, stewardship, patient choice, and payment/reimbursement.”

Over the course of the pandemic, Congress has created and helped fund several programs, many of which focus on telehealth, programs to help accelerate broadband deployment across the country in efforts to connect minority communities, Tribal lands, and other qualifying households.

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Expert Opinion

Laura Miller: 7 Reasons Working From Home Might Be Here to Stay

As most of the business world scrambled to be productive in a remote existence, established work-from-home companies were left unscathed.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is TempDev CEO Laura Miller

Long before the pandemic forcibly introduced the “work from home” concept nationwide, companies like TempDev were doing work-from-home right. As a computer engineer, I have operated a fully remote healthcare information technology consulting and firm focused on next generation healthcare software for 14 years.

Recently, as the business world scrambled to implement, support, learn and be productive in a remote existence, established work-from-home companies were left unscathed. Here are seven reasons why I think working from home might be here to stay.

1.   Vast employee pool /job opportunities

Sometimes a company’s needs don’t match the talent available. When a company does not rely on a physical space to house employees, these employees can come from anywhere in the world. This selection allows businesses to choose the perfect match for their needs. It also provides job seekers a wider variety of positions to choose from, making the possibility of finding their ideal career much greater.

2.   Flexibility

“Building, growing and caretaking for a family should be seen as a positive thing. Getting sick should not mean losing your job and health insurance. We have to remember where our priorities and values are,” says Miller. Employers who run remote businesses like Miller know most families don’t fit the confines of a 9 to 5 job schedule. Remote working allows employees and employers to work any time during the day. With no clocking in and no calling in sick, the work gets done with less fuss and stress. Additionally, the flexibility of working-from-home makes scheduling appointments, school transports and school visits easier with no lost work time.

3.   Childcare

Working from home still requires some undivided attention, but those who work this way have found that their childcare issues are much easier to deal with. There’s no rushing to drop off and running late when ‘meltdowns” occur. Some remote workers still take children to daycare, but the trip is more leisurely when rushing to work afterward is taken out of the equation.

4.   Eliminating the commute

For some people, the commute to work takes hours out of their day. Eliminating this factor is beneficial on several levels, not just putting quality time back into your day. No commute saves money on fuel and saves wear and tear on your vehicle. For employers, the hassle of people being late, missing punches or being upset after a miserable commute is eliminated.

5.   Diversity and inclusion

Having the capability to hire from anywhere allows much greater diversity. In this case, diversity refers to race and culture and includes factors such as experience, education and perspective. A diverse workforce can approach a concept or problem from all angles and arrive at the best solution. Additionally, employees who might be introverts or suffer from social anxiety have the opportunity to be part of a team and utilize their expertise without the stress of being in a physical workspace.

6.   Casual atmosphere

People might joke around about staying in their sweat pants all day and not taking a shower, but you must admit that this situation is a very welcome option some days. Not having to worry about a dress code or uniforms saves everyone money and time. The casual atmosphere seems to appeal to many people who love the option to be relaxed and comfortable while they work.

7.   No brick and mortar expenses

Some work-from-home businesses have a home-based office space that they use only for special projects or occasional meetings. With this type of limited use, companies can save significantly. However, with modern technology, having this space is not necessary for most remote companies. Employers with a 100 percent remote workforce get an even bigger break because they have zero office space expenses. There are no rent or mortgage payments. No electric or water bills. No office furniture — none of the regular costs a brick and mortar office space entails. These savings increase profitability and allow the company to pay employees competitive salaries and provide attractive benefits. These savings also re-route funding to allow for the best and most current software and other technology expenses.

While everyone is glad to see most pandemic-created effects disappear forever, one might be here to stay. Remote work — a troubling wrench in daily operations for many companies a year ago — has most likely become standard operations for many.

For companies like TempDev, work during the pandemic was unscathed because we had already embraced the advantages of remote operations. And now that the rough patches are a distant memory for the others, more companies can continue working remotely well into the future.

Laura Miller is the Founder and CEO of TempDev, a company of healthcare information technology consultants nationwide who specialize in NextGen EPM and EHR and development. She combines a technical background and business savvy to create holistic and sustainable solutions positive financial and operational impacts.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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