Driving better healthcare through human-centred technology

The Power of Consumerism

Paid Feature An awful lot has changed in healthcare in the last 18 months: for the most part we haven’t seen our doctors and nurses face-to-face and have become used to getting health advice via video. But if you thought we’d go back to the way it was before Covid, think again.

As with other areas of our lives, the use of technology during the pandemic has served to greatly accelerate trends that were already present Pre-pandemic, our methods of access to healthcare, no matter where in the world, were already becoming both physically and financially unsustainable. There’s a growing worldwide shortage of healthcare professionals - the WHO forecasts the shortfall will be 18 million by 2030 - so it won’t be feasible for many of us physically to put ourselves in front of a healthcare professional at all times.

Acute vs. chronic care

The world population is increasing in size, with longer life expectancies, and thus with greater healthcare spend on associated chronic disease and comorbidities. The upshot is healthcare spend will outpace GDP growth over the next 15 years in almost every OECD country, according to recent OECD forecasts.

Health spending per capita will grow at an average annual rate of 2.7 per cent across the OECD and will reach 10.2 per cent of GDP by 2030, up from 8.8 per cent in 2018, according to a new OECD report. It’s no surprise then that public health services around the world have been pondering ways to use technology to close the gap on health inequalities and offer us individualised advice on how to stay fit and healthy for some time.

At the moment healthcare services treat all illnesses in the same way, from very common minor ailments at the bottom of the pyramid like earaches and lacerations, to much less common chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer and COPD at the top of the pyramid which are much more costly to treat. Up to 80 per cent of total care expenditure in the US goes on the treatment of diseases at the top of the pyramid, for example. But all are dealt with in the same way.

Says Dr. Bob Monteverdi, Global Healthcare Solutions Leader at Lenovo: “We treat our daughter's ear infections with the same infrastructure that we use to treat grandma's breast cancer. Maybe we should try to take those less acute ailments and find another way of dealing with them, rather than send people to hospital and into the infrastructure that entails. Maybe we should find alternative capabilities, other alternative operations and treatment modalities that are less expenive and don't require so many resources.”

Patient-centric healthcare

Patient-centred approaches lie at the heart of this thinking. “The overarching lesson from the pandemic and the abrupt change to healthcare systems it caused was - and will continue to be - driven by consumerism,” Monteverdi says.

“It’s become critical in this age of increasing consumerism that healthcare systems step up their game, realise the greater expectations of patients, increase their engaging of and accessibility to patients and their families, while providing far greater value than ever before in the form of access, satisfaction, efficiency, quality care, reasonable cost and improved care outcomes. Covid has taught us the industry, and the technology that supports it, must change and be approached from the position of the patient rather than the clinician.”

While we’re just at the start of this trend, providers and their healthcare vendors are increasingly changing the way patients are able to access and communicate with their medical records in recent years, often from their smartphones and devices, Monteverdi says.

“Research has shown that if patients find their health management is made more accessible, they can take a greater level of ownership in their own health, participate in the education and help influence the decision process as well as their outcomes."

Challenges involved

But how to turn this into reality? Many existing healthcare systems are siloed legacy systems built for large health bureaucracies, long before anybody had thought that patients would become digitally enabled.

Security and privacy always need to be robustly addressed. Systems must be simple and transparent because patients are more likely to see their treatment through if they trust and understand it. Says Monteverdi: “Access has to be provided as an option to all end users, because everybody in a population has different levels of comfort with technology. We have to make sure that human-centred healthcare is accessible and made available across the population for it to be successful.”

For example, data interoperability varies in different geographies, he notes. “The challenge in healthcare is to attain a balance of privacy with ubiquitous data sharing,”says Monteverdi.

“The kind of data sharing that we’ve become comfortable with for, say, targeted ads, will never happen in healthcare. My condition is my business, and your condition is your business. But we want ubiquitous access to our data,” he says. Governments around the world are continuing to define how they are attempting to balance data sharing with privacy concerns, so it’s an evolving challenge that will take time and experience to be resolved.

In addition, social determinants of health, the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes play a large role in healthcare but are not without challenges. Access to care and social determinants of health has been a long-standing concern for health professionals in every society in the world. For example, a patient may not be able to access care because they are disadvantaged, live far from an adequate healthcare centre, or simply lack the knowledge and understanding of their disease state and care options.

Digital Transformation Solutions

Lenovo’s healthcare team is focused on delivering solutions to address these key industry issues. “We provide a virtual care solution where a remote-based patient from home or other location, combined with their provider can go well beyond mere telehealth eVisits. Patients are connected digitally to remotely check blood pressures, glucose levels and the like, enabling their provider monitor, guide, educate, as well as communicate with them from a distance,” Monteverdi says.

Lenovo provides solution packages encompassing software, biometric devices including a blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters and glucometers, pre-installed and ready to use on a remote compute device. They empower a patient to connect with their clinician in real time, who can then often diagnose, be alerted on status changes, treat and provide appropriate care while monitoring the health of their patient, no matter where he or she is.”

It’s in areas like this where healthcare technology can really come into its own. Monteverdi points out that if you live in a remote community and have a chronic disease like diabetes, then your only option without a virtual care solution is to somehow get to your doctor’s practice - when an appointment is available - to ensure you’re keeping it under control.

It results in the quality of care improving because the patient benefits from more of a real-time care management approach to their condition. And just as importantly, the ongoing support and feedback educates the patient about their disease, drives healthy habits on their part, which helps them to better manage their own condition.

As patients are continually monitored, the risk of their condition worsening without warning is generally reduced. Staff aren’t overburdened, the need to visit care facilities is reduced, so the impact on healthcare resources is reduced. Most importantly, the patient and caregiver are optimally highly engaged together in the drive to deliver more optimal outcomes, higher satisfaction levels, and via a more effective and efficient care model.

“The costs of maintaining data and keeping a remote tablet or device connected are significantly less expensive, from a population health point of view, than acute episodes that require unexpected and potentially avoidable emergency room visits. It’s a really good case that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” says Monteverdi. “Simply put, chronic conditions require chronic care.”

Lenovo works to deliver virtual care plans for patients through their trusted physicians because “in this world of information overload having that info channelled and handled by those same practitioners one trusts is a major positive”, says Monteverdi. “It’s customised for your needs by your care provider team, and handed to you by those same trusted individuals,”.

That said, it’s important that these virtual care approaches are understood to be a supplement to standardised face-to-face care delivery, and not viewed as a replacement. Physical interaction occupies a central role in most diagnostics and treatment and people will still need to meet their doctors directly at times to gain an aligned holistic view of their specific situations. However,more virtual approaches are clearly a major augmentation of care planning capabilities.

Lenovo has also developed additional solutions aimed at reducing costs and the burden on health professionals that benefit patients as well. For example, Virtual Roundingis a hospital inpatient communication tool that allows clinicians to use video calling to talk to their admitted inpatients while remote. Its development was initially triggered by the pandemic, in response to the need to protect patients and clinicians alike from infection spread while performing room-to-room rounds.

Additional benefits include the option for remote consulting doctors and family members to be engaged in these remote visits as well. As Monteverdi points out, it’s a platform that improves physician availability, patient care and engagement that will serve doctors to perform their hospital rounds well beyond Covid, given the inherent efficiencies its remote engagement offers both patient and provider.

The trends are global

With a projected shortfall of 18 million healthcare professionals globally by 2030, the pressures on healthcare systems around the world are not going to be resolved quickly. These pressures, along with the increasing cost and access challenges, need to be systematically addressed. If nothing else, the pandemic has taught us we’re willing to accept the virtualisation of healthcare and that it holds the promise of improving the care we are capable of delivering in a much better manner.

“I strongly believe more remote virtual healthcare options are here to stay, and will increasingly become a core component of care, with rapidly increasing acceptance by physicians and patients alike,” Monteverdi concludes. “Hopefully if we stay on course, our children growing up in this digital age will not have to tolerate anything less than a greatly improved healthcare environment and experience.”

This article is sponsored by Lenovo.

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