med tech

TMCx medical software company taps Houston for first U.S. market

TMCx company BetterConsult is premiering its software in Houston as its entrance to the U.S. market. Getty images

Long hours, high-stress situations and overwhelming college debt contribute to burnout among physicians. But so does something you might not have pondered: record keeping.

The clerical burden triggered by electronic medical records, or EHRs, "has become a leading cause of physician burnout," according to a 2017 article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. That declaration is backed up by a 2014 survey of 6,375 physicians in the U.S.

Technology from a startup called BetterConsult Inc., which recently planted its roots in Houston, aims to help diminish clerical burdens and physician burnout. BetterConsult is one of the latest entrants in the $31.5 billion global EHR market.

Through an online questionnaire, BetterConsult's software captures a patient's symptoms, medication, and other clinical information before an office visit. It then translates the data into concise medical notes available for a doctor to review.

BetterConsult says its technology can:

  • Decrease administrative tasks.
  • Enable doctors to see more patients.
  • Offer better insight into a patient's condition.
  • Improve patient outcomes.

Chris Barakat, senior vice president of BetterConsult, says Houston is the first U.S. market for the startup's offering. BetterConsult already is up and running in Australia, where parent company HealthShare Pty Ltd., a provider of healthcare technology, is based.

Barakat seeks to sign up at least 5,000 doctors — primary care physicians and medical specialists — in the Houston area by January 2023, which he says would result in about 400,000 patient e-consultations per week.

"BetterConsult has a vast database of symptoms and concerns available for patients to select which provides additional actionable information to the physician," Barakat wrote in a post on Medium.com. "In addition, the application can be used to support the continuum of care by updating the patient information for future visits. The solution has potential applications to provide value in emerging areas including telehealth, mental health, and population health."

Telehealth alone holds massive potential. A recent report from Global Market Insights forecasts the worldwide telehealth market will reach $130.5 billion by 2025, up from the current $38.3 billion.

"Telehealth is part of a larger digital transformation in health care. The electronic health record, omnipresent mobile devices, and faster internet connections have provided new ways for patients and providers to interact," the American Hospital Association says.

At this point, Barakat is BetterConsult's sole employee in the Houston office, but the company plans to add an untold number of sales, marketing, and support professionals. The startup graduated in June from the TMCx business accelerator at the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute.

BetterConsult's technology is slowly being rolled out in the Houston area. Barakat says the BetterConsult software will be piloted at two major healthcare systems in Texas.

Dr. Rajat Bhatt has installed BetterConsult's software at his three rheumatology clinics in the Houston area. Bhatt says the technology has cut documentation work by 40 percent. In addition, he says, it has decreased diagnosis errors, thanks to taking into account a patient's full medical history rather than just a current condition.

"The time I am saving is allowing me to increase the number of patients I see per day, helping to reduce the extensive wait times for Texans to see a rheumatologist," Bhatt says. "Because of the volume of patients I can now see, it has made my business much more economical. I can now see new patients within a week."

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Building Houston

 
 

Meet MIA — Houston Methodist's new voice technology assistant. Photo via Getty Images

Hey, MIA. Start surgery.

These are the words Houston doctors are learning to say in the operating rooms, thanks to a first-of-its-kind voice technology developed by the Houston Methodist's Center for Innovation in collaboration with Amazon Web Services. In the same way we use programs like Alexa or Siri to make our everyday tasks easier, the Methodist Intelligent Automation, or MIA, is allowing medical professionals to improve the way they interact both with technology and patients alike.

"There's been a push in the industry for a long time that people sitting behind computers and typing and staring at a computer screen is inadequate," says Houston Methodist Chief Innovation Officer Roberta Schwartz. "There's been a desire to return people back to each other rather than physicians and look at a screen and patients look at a doctor looking at a screen."

Currently in its pilot phase, MIA is working to do just that through two key functions that shift the way medical professionals work in what Schwartz calls the "era of electronic medical records."

The first is through operating room voice commands. Here medical professionals can run through a series or checklists and initiate important actions, such as starting timers or reviewing time of anesthesia, through voice instead of by typing or clicking, which can become cumbersome during lengthy and highly detailed surgeries. Information is displayed on a large 80-inch TV in the operating suite and following surgery all of the data captured is imported into the traditional EMR program. The technology has been prototyped in two Houston Methodist O.R. suites so far and the hub aims to trial it in a simulation surgery by the end of the year.

Additionally, the hub is developing ambient listening technology to be used in a clinical setting with the same goal. Houston Methodist and AWS have partnered with Dallas-based Pariveda to create specialized hardware that (after gaining patient permission) will listen into doctor-patient conversations, transcribe the interaction, and draft a note that is then coded and imported directly into the EMR.

"For EMR the feedback is that it's clunky, it's click-heavy, it's very task oriented," says Josh Sol, who leads digital and clinical innovation for Houston Methodist. "Our goal with the Center for Innovation and this technology hub is to really transform that terminology and bring back this collaboration and the patient-physician relationship by removing the computer but still capturing all the pertinent information."

The ambient listening technology is further off and is currently in user acceptance testing with clinicians.

"They've had some great feedback, whether it's changing how the note is created, changing the look and feel of the application itself," Sol adds. "All feedback is good feedback at this point. So we've taken it in, we prioritize the work, and we continue to improve the application."

And the hub doesn't plan to stop there. Schwartz and Sol agree that the next step for this type of medical technology will be patient facing. They envision that in the near future appointment or surgery prep can be done through Alexa push notifications and medication reminders or follow up assessments could be done via voice applications.

"It's all going to be of tremendous value and it's coming," Schwartz says. "We may be taking the first baby steps, but each one of these voice technologies for our patients is out there on the horizon."

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