Friday, August 01, 2008

Healthcare and Web 2.0

Healthcare systems are undergoing a series of complex transformations. Consumers are demanding better services and information that enables provider transparency and a more personalized service delivery model. This shift in healthcare has already begun, whether or not healthcare delivery organizations are ready to respond or not. We are quickly moving away from the traditional models of medicine and towards a patient-centric model with the intent to deliver more efficient care, whilst simultaneously improving patient outcomes.

The advent of new web 2.0 eHealth technologies is serving as a powerful catalyst and today’s savvy consumers (patients) are demanding that the often slow-moving healthcare industry act in response to their evolving needs.

The increasing expectations of consumers is a clear reflection of wider societal changes that have been evolving for a number of years, however, the pace of these trends has recently accelerated. In particular, the ability to articulate and communicate (1:1) individual preferences and demands has been made far easier with advancing web technologies. Such tools, for example, have enabled even novice internet users to create and edit content online. It’s clear; today’s Patients are becoming better informed and more web savvy; increasingly seeking services that allow them to take an active role in managing their health.

Patient Empowerment
Empowering patients to take more control over their health extends to those actions individuals and take for themselves, their children, their families and others to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health; meet social and psychological needs; prevent illness or accidents; care for minor ailments and long-term conditions; and maintain health and well being after an acute illness or discharge from hospital. This “Self-care” is also one of the key building blocks for patient-centric healthcare delivery, and research shows that supporting self-care improves health outcomes, increases patient satisfaction, and reduces the increasing administrative burden.

This (r)evolution is also driven by things like the increased adoption of online services via broadband and mobile devices; the enhanced ability to connect with individuals in other social networks; the continuing ease in submitting content online; and the growing participation of users with similar interests in online communities. People are flocking to online communities to share personal health experiences as well as learn from others with similar experiences or conditions. Patient feedback on treatments and providers for example, has begun to develop into an online system that generates transparency in the health system. Today’s web-savvy patients are using web tools to take responsibility for managing their own health status and care-path rather than always relying on experts or the 'doctor knows best' assumption. This self-service (self-care) trend effectively bridges the gap between caregivers and patients – before, during, and after the hospital stay and has far-reaching implications.

Heightened Transparency and Accountability
One of the central components of today's healthcare delivery (and public health at large) is information. The use of eHealth (ICT) technologies related to gathering and retrieving patient data is already important and will only become more important in the future.

Millions of dollars are spent each year in Canada alone on patients with chronic diseases who do not receive the recommended care designed to keep their conditions under control. New web 2.0 consumer tools and service models for chronic conditions are taking shape and the trend toward measurement of clinical outcomes is increasing and irreversible. As both regulatory agencies and consumers insist today on measuring the quality of care across a wide variety of clinical areas, “best-practice” treatment models emerge. This follows the growing awareness that quality equals affordability and that the best way to control long-term costs is to provide higher quality care today.

The Electronic Health Record (EHR)
Technology can be intimidating, however Practitioners recognize today that the use of a comprehensive, transferrable EHR promises to protect patients from preventable errors such as medication mistakes, surgical complications, and much more. It’s proven that extending care delivery stakeholders access to timely, evidence-based and expert information, enables more efficient and better-informed decisions. A recent Advertising campaign by Rexall Drugs in Canada identifies that as many as 200,000 Canadians are hospitalized annually from negative interactions with medications. Moreover, a (US-based) 2008 New England Journal of Medicine survey found that “82 percent of those using such electronic records said they improved the quality of clinical decisions, 86 percent said they helped in avoiding medication errors, and 85 percent said they improved the delivery of preventative care.”

So, whether the goal is to heighten prevention, detection, integration, or extend patients self-management---our healthcare delivery paradigm is clearly shifting to focus on connecting individuals rather than infrastructure---effectively putting patients (and clinicians) at the centre of new models of connectivity for improved communication and collaboration.

May the dreams of our past be the reality of our future.

No comments: