SonarMD COO Beth Houck on Technology’s Role in Value-Based Care

Beth Houck SonarMD

Smart devices continue to evolve how we interface with our world. In few places is that more profoundly felt than in healthcare, where communication with providers and access to information is now at our fingertips on-demand. SonarMD is a virtual, personalized tool designed to assist those with Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis track and monitor their symptoms between doctors’ appointments. This not only helps predict and alleviate flare-ups before they happen, but saves patients time and money, and provides them invaluable peace of mind.

SonarMD is part of a larger movement to leverage our growing technology savvy and access in an effort to effect real change in the direction of value-based care in the U.S. The Scope reached out to Beth Houck, SonarMD’s COO, who shared with us her thoughts on the role of technology, particularly remote-monitoring and AI, as well as what can be done to counter the entrenched systems that impede change in our healthcare system.

The Scope: What innovations in the last 1-3 years do you feel will permanently change the healthcare industry and why?

Beth Houck: While telehealth was not a new innovation, the onset of the COVID epidemic meant both a newfound appreciation for this feature as well as (and importantly) coverage by major insurers. At this point, we are in the early stages of it — with patients talking to their physician via standard audio/visual technology – but I do expect that this will launch even more technology that assists providers in remote assessment of their patients.

Along those lines, remote monitoring tools that keep tabs on (particularly) chronic patients’ health will become integrated as a standard of care. These devices are being designed as an on-par substitute for in-office tests (e.g., ECG tests) and/or as a means to measure disease deterioration or medication efficacy. The devices being designed and tested are evaluating everything from enzymes in perspiration to blood oxygen levels or signals of cardiac disease. Innovation is happening all over this category.

Who (organizations or people) are the most meaningful disruptors in healthcare today and why have others failed?

Beth Houck: I love what artificial intelligence has done to this industry. Many of the remote monitoring tools that I mentioned wouldn’t be actionable without using AI to surface the insight to the right person. This same technology has enabled efficiencies in an industry riddled with repetitive human tasks.

Apple, Amazon and Google have all undertaken “health” efforts, seeking to disrupt this huge, messy industry. At this point, I would argue that they haven’t been successful as they potentially underestimated the difficulty of navigating the payment (insurance) side of the industry. Now I hear they’re potentially creating their own plans. This will certainly disrupt the industry.

What areas of healthcare do you think are most in need of change?

Beth Houck: We still underfund the population of people in the most need of healthcare: Medicaid recipients and the underinsured. This population is particularly complex on the healthcare side because of other related issues: lack of access to transportation, fresh food, consistent housing. This same population needs consistent access to mental health services, [which is] currently underfunded / undercovered for most people.

What does value-based care mean to you? Can you provide us some examples in action?

Beth Houck: To me, value-based care means care that’s provided that adds value back into the system – patients get better care, the system overall costs less and the right people are paid for keeping the patient well. Here at SonarMD, we provide value-based care to patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis). We manage a population of patients assigned by the insurance company, collect symptoms and information from the patients on a regular basis, and collaborate with their physicians to ensure that the right patients are getting care at the right time. By doing this, we reduce unnecessary ER visits and hospitalizations and keep disease progression at bay.

What are the biggest challenges and obstacles to making your vision of a value-based care future a reality?

Beth Houck: The biggest challenge is the entrenched systems of fee-for-service medicine that have been in place for decades. It’s difficult to undo the systems that have been constructed to pay providers this way.

At the same time, we have many point solutions being developed (ours is for IBD-only right now, for example) and patients are more complex. We need to figure out how to queue up the right value-based program for the right people at the right time.

Where do you like getting your industry news from? Which industry thought leaders do you listen to and why

Beth Houck: I get my information from all sorts of resources. Standard publications include Becker’s and Modern Healthcare but I also read tons of smaller publications and thought leadership put out by consulting companies and equity analysts. I do follow a number of healthcare leaders on Twitter – everything from leaders within the government (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation) to those focused on GI care, artificial intelligence, healthcare data, social determinants of health and more!

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