Friday, October 24, 2008

The Modern Face of Healthcare: The Wired Patient

Occasionally in our lives there is an alignment of powerful forces that cause a technology, a theory, or a new product to resonate with the broadest of audiences. One topic that is consistently debated and the highest priority on the agenda of citizens, public servants, and nations at large is healthcare ---and in particular how the advent of the internet and communication technologies is changing the way we deliver care.

The aim of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for Health (also known as eHealth) is to significantly improve the quality, access and efficacy of healthcare. ICT for Health describes the application of information and communication technologies across the whole range of functions that affect the health sector. Whether attempting to heighten prevention, detection, integration, or extend patients self-management tools---today’s healthcare delivery paradigm is clearly shifting to focus on connecting individuals rather than infrastructure. Moreover, today’s savvy consumers are demanding better health services and a more personalized service delivery model that places them at the centre of new models of connectivity for improved communication and collaboration.

Harris Interactive, on behalf of The Commonwealth Fund Commission, recently surveyed a random sample of 1,004 U.S. adults (age 18 and older) to determine their experiences and perspectives on the organization of the US health care system and ways to improve patient care. Eight of 10 respondents agreed that the health system needs either fundamental change or complete rebuilding—citing difficulties accessing care, poor coordination of services, and administrative hassles. In addition, the survey found that one of three adults has experienced inefficient or unnecessary care in the past two years. Granted this was not a Canadian study, however, many of the systemic issues seen south of the border are equally relevant here in Canada.

What is consistent in both countries is that Patients are increasingly seeking services that empower them to take an active role in managing their own health. Empowering patients to take more control over their health extends to those actions individuals and take for themselves, their children, 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.

Patient self-care is 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. What is clear is that people are going online today to share personal health experiences and learn from others with similar experiences or conditions. This shift promises to evolve traditional models of medicine toward a patient-centric model and aims to effectively bridge the gap between caregivers and patients – before, during, and after the hospital stay. The good news is that the value proposition is mutually advantageous, as both Patients and Healthcare delivery organizations reap the benefits of self-care initiatives.

Patient Collaboration
There is a notable growth in patient collaboration in determining support and direction. And this will only increase as the tools that enable and track insight and participation continue to improve.

When patients participate directly in determining how they are engaged, and are provided personalized content in their preferred channel, Healthcare delivery organizations are simultaneously extended the ability to capture and share information, understand their stakeholder’s unique needs, and improve the overall patient experience.

Information and communication technologies (ICT) offer numerous potential benefits in terms of improvements for patients, health and elderly care professionals and decision-makers. Citizens, patients and relatives must have quick, trouble-free access to quality-assured information on health care provision and health concerns, as well as personal data on their own care, treatment and health status. They must also be able to contact care services via the internet for assistance, advice or help with self-treatment.

What is absolutely clear is that Information and communication technologies are changing health care delivery and are at the core of effective, responsive health systems. These technologies are key to connecting people, information and research to improve health in countries, and ultimately, healthcare organizations extending their patients participatory tools in their own care path will have a much deeper understanding of their patients needs, and will have gone significantly farther towards building and maintaining patient trust and confidence.

Today, it’s truly all about the Patient and one-to-one engagement is the new competitive advantage.

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