Telehealth and the Manhunt for the Boston Marathon Bombers

April 23, 2013
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On Monday April 15, the United States experienced its worst terror attack on domestic soil since 9/11.

The bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon and the remarkably fast capture/killing of the alleged perpetrators are a historic event.

On Monday April 15, the United States experienced its worst terror attack on domestic soil since 9/11.

The bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon and the remarkably fast capture/killing of the alleged perpetrators are a historic event.

In this article, we do two things:

  1. Share an infographic about the Boston Marathon bombings, courtesy of Bloomberg
  2. Highlight how the reactions of law enforcement and ordinary people lead to parallel learnings for succeeding in telehealth


For most of last week, the US and the world were getting news that led them to expect a long, drawn out search for the people involved in planning and executing the Boston marathon bombings.

Surprisingly, on Thursday evening starting at 5pm Eastern Time things started moving very quickly. And by Friday evening, one suspect had been killed and the other captured.

Friday night, I was glued to the TV, watching the story of how law enforcement had gotten the information about the suspects and how they had coordinated their strategies to capture them.

During the press conference, we saw leaders one after another, including the mayor of Boston, the governor of Massachusetts, the FBI leader in charge of the investigation, police chiefs from different municipalities, the local US attorney, etc. talk about what an amazing job everyone had done in coordinating activities and information, ultimately leading to successful apprehension of the primary suspects.

Nevertheless, there is and will be plenty of analysis as to how this attack could happen, how / why we successfully got the attackers, and what is possible to prevent this from happening again.

I believe that telehealth programs and services can learn from the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers, because it highlights cultural and technological changes that can be leveraged as best practices for telehealth.

Coordination

9/11 had exposed significant gaps in our security systems, and many pieces were put into place to prevent such an attack from happening again.

Among these were having better coordination between different entities involved.

In telehealth, we also need better coordination in caring for patients.

Telehealth is essentially designed to bring healthcare to the patient rather than the other way around.

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This paradigm necessitates having the patient’s healthcare information available and accessible no matter where he/she is.

Clinicians and caregivers need coordinated access to that info.

The more info you can provide so as to minimize the difference between seeing a patient in-person and seeing them virtually, the better.

On the flip side, if you have poor coordination, you have gaps that could lead to disaster.

For example, a physician conducting a remote consult could recommend a certain medication for the patient, but without any info about allergies or other medications which could contraindicate the prescription, this could lead to problems.

Make sure you have the right protocols and enabling technology in place to

  1. collect as much information as possible before a telehealth consult takes place (to support the consulting clinician),
  2. collect the right types of information during a consult, and
  3. document the relevant information after a consult (to support the handoff to the next person involved in the patient’s healthcare experience).

Crowdsourcing

After the bombings occurred, law enforcement reached out to the public to send any info they had that could help in the investigation.

In this age of mobile phones and tablets with built-in cameras and video, camcorders, email, etc., authorities received thousands of pieces of rich data very quickly.

And in a relatively short time, they used their legion of analysts to find patterns that led them to the 2 primary suspects.

But the crowdsourcing didn’t stop there.

Once possible suspects were identified, the FBI released images on their website on Thursday at 5pm Eastern Standard Time, again asking for help from anyone who knew these individuals or had better images.

They got so many hits on their website that it actually went down temporarily.

They were able to identify the suspects more quickly after more info flooded in from ordinary people who recognized the faces or the backpacks.

From these crowdsourcing successes, here are my two takeaways for telehealth…

First, the management of patient care is no longer the sole responsibility of the authority – i.e. the physician.

Patients can get involved, too.

And they should engage in discussions with their doctors, other patients and caregivers to go deep to help their doctor fill in the gaps.

This is not the doctor’s fault, because a primary care physician with hundreds of patients with many different issues, simply does not have the time to go as deep on a single patient’s situation as the patient or their caregivers who have the ability to focus more on that one issue.

In fact, patients can crowdsource on behalf of their physicians.

Dave deBronkart, also known as e-Patient Dave (http://epatientdave.com/), has a fascinating story of how crowdsourcing helped him find a cure for his “terminal” cancer which has now been in remission for 6 years.

Second, physicians can crowdsource answers to their patient questions.

In fact, if you think about it, traditional telehealth is crowdsourcing from a crowd of 1.

Just think what kind of doors you could open up (some legal doors as well) if you could crowdsource a patient care issue from multiple experts simultaneously.

This is just one of the directions that telehealth is headed.

Whereas a 3-way consultation via phone call would be too difficult to manage, you might actually be able to get a better conversation via a 3- or 4-way video conference coupled with patient images or video.

Multi-media

Just as news came out in multiple outlets from broadcasts to wires to Internet to print, people were consuming information, sharing, and responding to information in different media formats.

Someone could see something on TV and then tweet about it over the Internet.

The telehealth lesson to me is that we are seeing an increasing explosion of the media by which people access and share information.

If your telehealth solution is using a single form of media that is not proving effective, you may find that other forms could be more effective or could enhance the overall user experience when added to the first media.

Final thoughts

The big lesson for me is that people can leverage highly accessible technology and other people to access and share information that can be vital to solving a situation, whether it’s a terror attack or a heart attack.

Pay attention to what’s working outside of telehealth and ask how you can apply it to telehealth.

You may discover an innovation that takes you to a new level of success.

Boston Marathon bombings manhunt and telehealth

 

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It’s your turn. Do you have any lessons for telehealth coming out of the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers? Please share your comments below.