“The doctor will see you now.” Dr. Deborah A. Jeffries (“Dr. Deb”) uses her 25 years in medicine, patient care, education, physics and telemedicine and information systems to understand the needs of Polycom’s customers in the healthcare sector. For National Health IT Week, we sat down with Dr. Deb to learn more about her career history, passions outside of work, and what trends she sees for healthcare in the future.
Q: What was your career path to Polycom?
A: I have always loved problem solving, whether it’s literally a puzzle or riddle, or a more complicated multi-faceted conundrum. So I kicked off my education by majoring in physics at U.C.L.A, a great place to learn about a subject that explores the laws of nature and ways to solve complex problems. My graduate work took me further into the world of physics, and provided me an opportunity to get my teaching credentials.
I joined the workforce as an aerospace engineer, working on real-time data acquisition for the F18 plane, using assembler code, and updating system bingers that literally stacked over 18” high. That’s a lot of code!
I went on to corporate IT as a senior systems analyst, where I really enjoyed doing needs analysis, functional specifications and US wide systems deployment. In this role, I realized how much I loved working with people and building successful programs, so I headed off to medical school, hoping to find ways to use my problem-solving skills to help people through better healthcare approaches.
What an amazing experience! There is an overwhelming amount of information on all aspects of healthcare. Bringing it all together to help people is a real challenge. After med school, I returned home and was excited to join Merrimack College where I taught hematology and pathophysiology. It was wonderful to work with the students and hopefully inspire others to seek out a future in healthcare. My classes were very interactive and usually kicked off with a differential diagnosis exercise where I would set up the patient scenario and then go around the room and have each student give a differential. Thinking back on those days, I still have to laugh: there was one student that always answered pulmonary infarct, no matter what the scenario. Who knows - maybe he went on to become a pulmonologist!
From there I had the good fortune to call a former colleague from days gone by and as we updated each other on what had happened over the previous years he introduced me to the concept of telemedicine. The phone call with my former colleague started me on the amazing path that ultimately brought me to Polycom and to today’s efforts to support the new healthcare model in the US using collaborative interactive multipoint video! I owe so many along the way a big thank you for their help and support. I will always appreciate how lucky I am to have met so many amazing people over the years.
Q: Do you have any favorite hobbies?
A: I have always loved sports. I grew up playing softball, basketball (I once made a basket in Pauley Pavilion, a highlight of my b-ball days!), and a little golf. I spent many years where volleyball was my main sport.
My favorite sport these days is attempting to be an equestrian and riding dressage. It’s a sport that requires isometric and isotonic exercise, as well as the ability to balance and match your position to that of your equine partner. I am lucky to have Epic (pictured right), my great thoroughbred-draft cross horse. I’m so passionate about the sport.
Q: What trends, challenges or opportunities do you see for healthcare in the future?
A: As we transition to Patient Centered Care, there will be a new way of looking at care delivery. We will be able to use resources according to their talent, availability and need. Patients will be able to bring in family member support, independent of geography. We will see video-enabled virtual medical teams, virtual family and community meetings, and self-help tools widely available from home or on the go.
Physicians will be able to get back to more eyes-on-the-patient rather than eyes-on-a-computer-screen. Consider how much more time a practitioner will have if they are supported over video during a patient exam by a virtual medical assistant who can update the medical record efficiently and accurately. This would free up the doctor's hands and eyes for the physical exam.
Collaborative live video will enable resources to be pooled for workload balance, and will free up the practitioners to do what they have been trained to do: take care of patients. Further consider the freedom of access that comes with expertise shared over video and not being restricted to physical proximity to experts.
This means you can share nursing resources virtually for better patient care, and easier education of both patient and practitioner. Not only will you see better utilization of resources doing what they were trained to do, but also there will be access to personalized analytics, which can help guide patients in best lifestyle choices. Patients won’t be alone in their efforts to make the best choices, even if they are home bound. For example, they will be able to join a video meeting with peers who are struggling and overcoming the same challenges.
Health can be viewed in the context of Maslow’s model, which points out how important it is to have a feeling of belonging, acceptance and recognition. (See Dr. Deb's related blog post re: Maslow.) Now think of a future where our communities flow from the physical location into expansive video-enabled communities, connecting families, friends, peers and the healthcare teams. I see a future where we can get back to the bedside doctor (albeit over video) and once again experience the strength of healing that comes from personal relationships.
What do you think is the future of healthcare? What do governments and the industry need to do to manage healthcare challenges? Have your say on what healthcare will look like in 2025, take our global survey now.