Written by Catherine Lewis Saenz
Dr. Kameron Black began his foray into the world of digital health long before he stepped foot on RVUCOM’s Colorado Campus. While still a student in high school, he was part of a program that introduced students to the field of medicine at an early age. Later, as a student at the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) Dr. Black became interested in technology in the form of mobile applications, commonly referred to as mobile apps. With the help of a classmate and a university administrator, Dr. Black developed an app designed to reduce food waste at University club outreach events.
This experience at UC San Diego led Dr. Black to develop apps in the realm of educational software with a startup company that was based out of San Francisco – a venture that began with him spending all the money in his bank account on a one-way ticket to the Golden City. He also joined Stanford University’s StartX program, a company accelerator that further immersed him in the tech scene. It was during this experience that he first encountered the intersection of medicine and technology, which further strengthened his resolve to become a physician innovator. He returned to his medical studies and completed a Masters in Public Health at the University of Colorado – Anschutz Medical Campus while volunteering for Prime Health, a philanthropic organization that gave Dr. Black access to the digital health scene. Dr. Black’s experience in college developing apps and his introduction to the healthcare field would lead him to co-develop what would later become RVU’s Digital Health Track.
The First of Its Kind: RVU’s Digital Health Track Is Formed
The RVU Digital Health Track had its beginnings in the Digital Health Club and Digital Health Day, which Dr. Black and his colleagues had modeled after RVU’s Research Day when he was still a student at RVUCOM. The event hosted a panel discussion with health executives from nearby major hospital systems, a vendor show (featuring technology such as digital stethoscopes) and a raffle. Seeing potential in digital health, RVU’s leadership team began to explore the development of curriculum in the form of a full-fledged track alongside the Global Medicine and the Rural & Wilderness Medicine Tracks, and one that would also be available on both campuses. In August of 2018, Dr. Black founded the Digital Health Club, which became the launching point for the track.
For the track to continue after its founding members – Dr. Black and classmates Brandon Bealer, DO ’21, Andrew Glerum, DO ’21, Joshua Calvano, DO ‘21, Edwin Fundingsland, DO ‘21, Joseph Fike, DO ‘21, and Ryan Henschell, DO ‘21 – had graduated from RVUCOM, it would need to bring two course directors on board. In 2018, the cohort joined forces with Cole Zanetti, DO, and Regan Stiegmann, DO, an alumna from RVU’s Class of 2014, who would serve as co-directors of the new track. Along with the other founding members, Dr. Black assisted in the creation of syllabi, modules, and the class structure for the Digital Health Track, the nation’s first longitudinal curriculum in digital health for medical students.
While Dr. Black graduated from RVUCOM this past May and is currently completing his Internal Medicine residency at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), he plans to continue focusing on health technology and its potential to improve access to care for underserved patient populations. After his residency, he hopes to apply for a 2-year fellowship in clinical informatics.
Digital Health at RVU and Beyond
Interest and demand in digital technologies to improve healthcare delivery has increased rapidly, and the Digital Health Track will need to incorporate these new technologies into its curriculum so that RVU’s medical students are ahead of the curve when they enter their residencies and beyond. Dr. Black believes that digital health will become more integrated into a variety of specialties and the healthcare field will need to adapt to using technology in all areas of medicine. Applications are currently being developed and improved upon to make healthcare more efficient, such as Google Cloud’s new ‘healthcare data engine’.
One EHR application that Dr. Black believes will be widespread in future healthcare settings is a clinical decision support system (CDSS), which are computer-based programs that analyze data and provide reminders, notifications, and evidence-based guidelines to assist patients . Essentially, CDSS technology provides person-specific alerts, patient reports, and other information. According to Dr. Black, if a patient is at high risk for sepsis, for example, a notification in the hospital’s EHR would alert the patient’s physician of this risk in effort to facilitate early intervention. With the use of predictive analytics, the system could also notify physicians of patients at high risk of becoming diabetic in the next five years by applying machine learning techniques to the data collected. At RVU, students are introduced to this system and others in the Digital Health Track.
With legislation such as the 21st Century Cures Act, aimed at improving electronic health record (EHR) interoperability and eliminating data silos, and Epic EHR’s app store, (known as the Epic App Orchard) Dr. Black describes this as an exciting time to enter into the field of medicine. The goal of all of these advancements is to make healthcare more efficient but to also put patients more in charge of their own health. Already, several healthcare systems like the Veteran’s Administration and Kaiser Permanente are giving patients direct access to their health records via their phones.
As these innovative systems are developed, Dr. Black stressed the importance of having physicians who are engaged and on the ground floor. Health technology development needs input from physicians, he explained, in order to meet its mark in terms of improving healthcare delivery. For this reason, healthcare systems have begun creating innovation centers, making it easier for physicians to bring ideas to the “technology table,” so to speak. Dr. Black hopes to one day become involved with these innovation centers.
Winning First Place at the MIT Hackathon
While still a fourth-year student at RVU, Dr. Black competed in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Building for Digital Health Hackathon, an event hosted by the MIT Hacking Medicine initiative. MIT Hacking Medicine describes its mission as an effort to “energize, infect, and teach healthcare entrepreneurship and digital strategies to scale medicine as a way to solve health problems worldwide.” Dr. Black and his team – Yasmina Richa; Fidaul Alam, MD; Deborah Adewunmi; Natalie Hearty; Jing Yan; and Anuoluwapo Adeyemi – put together a business plan and prototype for an application that would make the hospital discharge process “more interactive, actionable, and measurable for patients and caregivers.” The app, called Caretinue, proposes a solution to the high rates of hospital readmissions, particularly amongst elderly patients. The high readmission rate is, in part, a result of patients having difficulty understanding follow-up care instructions because they are too lengthy, too detailed, or because they are not translated into the patient’s primary language. This also includes complex medication prescriptions and numerous follow-up appointments that often leave patients feeling overwhelmed.
The app – which Dr. Black and his team won first place for at the hackathon in the “Best Use of Google Cloud” category – is a platform that translates complex information into easy-to-understand instructions and features that include simplified diagnosis explanations, real-time messaging with health coaches, medication reminders, task-based self-care summaries, and links to follow-up appointment directions. The Caretinue model also takes into account any language barriers a patient might have and ensures care is coordinated with multiple stakeholders. To learn more about the app, you can view the Caretinue MIT event pitch on YouTube here.
“I am honored and blessed to have the chance to work with such dedicated fellow innovators,” says Dr. Black of his work with the RVU Digital Health Track and Caretinue endeavors. For more information regarding these and other projects that Dr. Black is involved with, or to connect with him directly, please see Dr. Black’s LinkedIn profile here.