Published on May 29, 2020

  • Mobile devices are playing an increasingly important role in patient care and doctor-patient communication.
  • The coronavirus pandemic forced the quick adoption of telemedicine.
  • Smart wristbands that measure distance and vibrate when you get too close to someone have been tested.

Video Transcript


JOHN WHYTE: You're watching Coronavirus in Context. I'm Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD. Even before COVID-19, technology was playing a key role in the innovation of health care. Now more than ever, mobile devices are playing a significant role in how patients receive care and how they interact with their physician and the health care community. To provide insights about this transformation of health care, I've asked Taher Behbehani, who's the general manager and head of mobility B2B at Samsung Electronics America. Taher, thanks for joining me.

TAHER BEHBEHANI: Thanks for having me.

JOHN WHYTE: Taher, I wanted to start right off with asking you, what's the role of mobility and 5G in transforming health care, especially now, during this pandemic?

TAHER BEHBEHANI: Uh, it's quite critical. Um, uh, so think of 5G as a very fast pipe, as a very big pipe, as a very long pipe, and a secure pipe.


TAHER BEHBEHANI: Which means that you can have access to information at any place in a very, uh, effective manner.


TAHER BEHBEHANI: So you can take a patient, the information, review it on a mobile device, very high quality, make diagnostic--


TAHER BEHBEHANI: --decisions. You can review x-rays, you can review, uh, the-- basically, uh, data and images that you otherwise would have to see a patient face to face. In our-- in-- in this day and age, what we have managed to do is we created these, um, kits, these dev-- uh, basically packages for, uh, for health care. And, uh, which means that, uh, the user gets these kits delivered to their home, they open it up, the device is set up, and you can actually log on and see, uh, and connect to your physician, connect to your, uh, to your doctor, uh, hopefully, uh, prior to any situation arises, or after for-- for monitoring and care.

JOHN WHYTE: But these are also touchless, are they not?

TAHER BEHBEHANI: That's right, many of these, uh, devices, these phones are very, uh, designed with very interesting UX. You can actually, once you unbox them, you can use voice recognition to activate. Some of these have a new user interface. We are now seeing cases of, uh, avatars being used quite a bit, actually. So if you're not in the mood to type in, you can actually have somebody-- someone speak with you. Um, and it's AI-based, so you can actually have-- we're working with companies that have designed these that makes it very interactive and quite engaging, and, uh, and can navigate and guide the discussion to where the information is most appropriate.

JOHN WHYTE: We've been spending a lot of time talking to experts about the role of telemedicine and telehealth. And we talked to the folks at Kaiser Permanente, who'd said 80% of visits right now are telemedicine. We don't expect that six months from now, but it's not going to be 2% or 5%, as it was in some other areas. And then we also have remote patient monitoring, which was starting to build some strength prior to COVID-19. How do you think telehealth, telemedicine, and remote patient monitoring are going to look post-COVID?

TAHER BEHBEHANI: Prior to this situation, telemedicine, telehealth was there as a-- what I would call a niche offer.


TAHER BEHBEHANI: After the COVID situation, it turned out that, because the solutions existed, the packages were designed, this-- there was no R&D needed. We put all of this together, repurposed them with our partners, uh, specifically for telemedicine, remote monitoring in the current situation. I think the user behavior will change. Just like you and I are using this new technology and this new medium, I think that we will get used to, on both sides, both the physicians and the patients, will get used to, um, interacting this manner.

Now, if you have the accessories where you can actually sent your vital information to back to using data, uh, and data networking, 5G, back to the-- to the doctor, you don't actually have to go in person if they have the information that they would otherwise be getting it physically in the office. I think this is now at a phase where will be adopted more readily. We are going to keep it as a routine part of our, uh, health management, uh, going forward. Will it be 80%? Don't know. But it will be higher than what it was--


TAHER BEHBEHANI: --a few months ago, for sure. There's no question about that.

JOHN WHYTE: Do you think the issue with adoption was more about the regulatory hurdles that companies and physicians had to do to provide these services, or was it more of the adoption from consumers and patients that felt uncomfortable? I've heard patients say they don't trust, you know, the devices, or they don't-- they don't want to be recorded. You mentioned about some privacy issues early on. What do you think was the big issue with adoption pre-COVID?

TAHER BEHBEHANI: I-- I think the issue was mostly, uh, behavior. I think, basically, it's the established habits, uh, that we have had. Um, you know, it's not easy for patients, nor doctors, to learn and change their routine. Uh, and I think this forced this upon us. There was no other option. And once we tried it, [INAUDIBLE] actually interesting, it works. So I think it's mostly like adoption. The adoption curve, which would have taken, let's say, 10 years or five years or three years, became six weeks. Uh, and now here we are. Um, so I think that's-- that's really key. I think it's less regulation, more adoption.

JOHN WHYTE: OK. And digital really has stepped up to the plate when we think about addressing, um, you know, the challenges that COVID has imposed. And then I read this very interesting article that I want to ask you about in Bloomberg that talked about four tests, these buzzing wristbands to keep workers at distances. So we're all talking about this physical distancing. So I want to hear about how you all came up with this idea that, uh, you know, you have a wristband that buzzes and maybe turns a different color when you get too close to people. That sounds pretty interesting.

TAHER BEHBEHANI: Yeah, actually, that's right. It's one of-- it's one of these things, um--


TAHER BEHBEHANI: --it's really nice. It looks good, feels good, and I use it on every day.


JOHN WHYTE: --right?

TAHER BEHBEHANI: Of course, time. It tells you a whole bunch, how many steps, what you do, uh, how active you are.


TAHER BEHBEHANI: It's quite-- it's quite intelligent. Look, um, on this particular application, it turns out that watches, especially this design, it has a-- a Bluetooth technology, which is low power. So you wear it using very, um, sophisticated software that's easily downloadable to devices. You can measure the distance pretty accurately with the other person or people around you, and the device buzzes you and gives you a sensation. It doesn't embarrass you. No alarm goes off. But it gently buzzes you so that you know if there's a vibration that, you know, maybe I should step away.


TAHER BEHBEHANI: It, uh-- that's number one. Number two, you don't need any new infrastructure. No new wiring, nothing that you have to put on a wall, no cables that have to be run. So you essentially don't touch the work environment from an infrastructure point of view. That's pretty good. Number three, uh, they-- we tested this with our partners and realized it does, in fact, the rate of interaction and proximity, let's say, issues that come up dropped by about 50%. So people do learn by feedback mechanism.


TAHER BEHBEHANI: The ease of use is-- is-- was ingenious from-- from [INAUDIBLE] to, um, to sort of realize that this type of device-- and by the way, you wear it all the time. Uh, and you can enable it by our software so that it's activated at your work. Not outside, but at your work. Out-- out of the work environment, it's-- uh, the function disable. So these things make it very easy for a work environment. And that's how we discovered it.

The one thing I want to tell you about these smartwatches, you know, this is this Galaxy watch and-- and our devices, these are-- these are computers, very powerful computing devices. So we can load a software on it. If we need to change, modify, enhance, or add new features to it, we can do that.


TAHER BEHBEHANI: So that's what makes it very interesting and, I think, useful, especially given that I always tell people we need to be very humble in this situation. We don't actually know how it's all ending up. We know how to manage it, but exactly how things will pan out, specifically from a technical point of view, we don't know. But these are very good platforms to sort of, uh, adapt to whatever comes up.

JOHN WHYTE: Take out your crystal ball. Tell us what the physician-patient interaction looks like five years from now.

TAHER BEHBEHANI: You know, uh, I was a biomedical engineer, and I started my job, my career, actually, working in hospitals. Um, and-- and-- and-- and crystal balls are very interesting. Same-- some things haven't actually happened which we expected to happen. Um, I think--

JOHN WHYTE: What did you-- what did you predict would happen that you expected?

TAHER BEHBEHANI: Oh, well, we expected lot of things happening. You know, [INAUDIBLE] remote monitoring--


TAHER BEHBEHANI: --AI, remote diagnostics--

JOHN WHYTE: All right.

TAHER BEHBEHANI: --uh, which some of it did, but you know, slower paced. Thing-- things take time. Um--

JOHN WHYTE: But five years from now, is it going to be all DIY? Is it all going to be they're talking to, you know, an AI device? What-- what's it going to look like?

TAHER BEHBEHANI: I think-- I think in a-- from a-- from a [INAUDIBLE] point of view-- this is my personal view-- one is that we are going to be much more-- health is going to become much more similar to fitness. We are-- we'll give our data. We'll be OK with giving our data. In return, we need to get some diagnostics out. Number two, I think the information, uh, basically based on algorithms. AI is a kind of interesting term. Uh, machine learning, uh, algorithms, intelligent sort of feedback mechanisms I think connected to us, for us on a personal basis so will become much more important.

Sharing information with third parties in a-- in a protected manner is very important. There are mechanisms to do that. Imagine putting this in a lockbox and releasing it only when needed. I think physicians will become a lot more, uh, tech savvy. I will go to my doctor, and my doctor will now come with a stethoscope, but also a push to talk device, a body cam that actually sees me, records it, and has that interaction with me using technology, as well. So I think you'll see a lot of-- lot more of that happening, too. And I don't-- I think before five years, actually, before five years is out, this probably take place.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, maybe we will visit you in a year and-- and see how we're doing. Taher, I want to thank you for taking time to spend with us.

TAHER BEHBEHANI: Thank you so much for having me.

JOHN WHYTE: And I want to thank you for watching Coronavirus in Context.