Healthcare Technology Featured Article

December 13, 2013

Tonic Health: A Spoonful of Sugar for Medical Data Collection


Imagine you are stepping into the waiting room of a doctor’s office. You approach the counter, and the receptionist tells you that they need some information. Instead of handing you a clipboard with pages upon pages of questions to decode, what if you were handed an iPad? Better yet, what if you could fill out that information online before you even set foot in the office, using a platform that looks more like a game than a medical form?

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Boris Glants, CTO of Tonic Health. Tonic is an innovative medical data collection platform that can be used in place of regular paperwork to obtain a wide variety of information for healthcare providers. The technology can be run on just about any device, from iPhones and tablets to desktop Web browsers, and the whole thing operates in an efficient and cost-effective cloud environment hosted by SunGard Availability Services.

Unlike most medical software providers, Tonic’s plan was to put the patients’ needs first. Most companies, as Glants points out, use an “inside-out” approach to data collection, asking what hospitals need in order to fill out forms before asking how to get that information from patients. It’s the difference between telling a patient, “This is the system you have to use,” and actually asking them what works best.

Tonic is different. “When we built Tonic, our whole core hypothesis was that we want to start from the outside-in,” Glants explained. By making its primary focus the consumer, Tonic was able to develop a way to make medical questionnaires more efficient, fun, and “actually bring a smile” to patients’ faces. Only once patient satisfaction had been thoroughly addressed did Tonic begin to figure out how to integrate that information with electronic medical record (EMR) systems.

“That’s been the Tonic journey, to start with the patient and work backwards,” Glants said.

Customizing the experience

One of the most remarkable features of Tonic is its level of customization. Clinics using Tonic can choose from about 30 different question types, and each question type has many more options for personalization available. You’re not only customizing the questions and answers available, but also the images that go with them. Tonic has a huge library of unique images to choose from, and users can also upload their own, such as company branding. After all, images can go a long way in helping to create context for patients so that the questions are easier to understand.

“You want to ask [patients] intelligent questions,” Glants said. “You don’t want to ask them the same thing” more than once, “and also you want to take the opportunity to ask them things that can really help you drive clinical decisions.” Tonic uses “skip logic” to show patients personalized questions based on their responses. Unlike static paper forms that must include all possible questions, Tonic can skip over non-applicable questions, such as gender-specific questions, based on whether the patient selects “male” or “female” at the start of the survey.

Nothing is more frustrating than giving an office the same information every time you have an appointment, so—thanks to the cloud-based environment in which Tonic lives—once a patient has submitted a survey, the information is updated in real time. A receptionist can take back an iPad when the patient is finished, enter the patient’s MRN number, do a query against the clinic’s database, and send Tonic back all the patient information that they have. Tonic will then repopulate it in the survey so that the clinic doesn’t have to ask the same question twice moving forward.

Image via entrepreneur.com

Tonic yields better results

Providing real time data can also help healthcare professionals screen for potentially immediate health concerns and set up alerts by email and phone to be sent to receptionists and doctors for quick response time. With Tonic’s gamified format, patients have been shown to be more willing to answer more questions, and in less time than traditional paper forms—Kaiser and the New York Presbyterian Hospital conducted a pilot study which found that it took roughly 15 minutes less to fill out the Tonic form versus a standard clipboard paper form. And with the tablet format, the survey is easier to complete for patients who may have difficulty writing by hand.

Tonic additionally encrypts all medical data at rest and in transit, making it highly secure and compliant with HIPAA Safe Harbor laws. After a patient leaves the office, Tonic can reach out and gather information for patient satisfaction ratings and patient reported outcomes, which are becoming a very important concern for healthcare providers as per the new Affordable Care Act regulations.

As stated above, Tonic uses the cloud for all its operations, which means that there is no need to install hardware, the speed of performance and real-time data are tremendously increased, and any changes take days rather than weeks or months to implement. “For pilot programs, without any integration, we can be up and running within an hour,” Glants said.

By putting its main focus squarely on patient engagement and satisfaction, Tonic Health turns out to be hugely beneficial for all parties: patients provide more information more readily, and healthcare professionals gain detailed medical information on every patient in real time that can be put to actionable use. Handling patient data—with those mountains of paperwork and forms—used to be a hard pill to swallow, but the process is getting a whole lot sweeter thanks to Tonic. 




Edited by Cassandra Tucker




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