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Moving away from analogue health in a digital world

Healthcare records still rely on faxes, email, mail and paper, but the innovative use of technology will lead to major improvements in medical care

Advancements in healthcare have been fundamental in changing the world as we know it. People are living longer and achieving more in their lifetime. Nations are ageing and their healthcare costs are spiralling upwards. Everywhere we look today, problems arise from the need to provide the best possible patient care at the most affordable price. Supply-driven care is out; value-based care is in.

If we take it as a given that resources are finite and the demands on our healthcare systems are only likely to increase under the status quo, then the key to providing a sensible framework for the provision of healthcare lies in one that provides efficiencies across the stakeholder spectrum.

Such a framework – which the Open Group Healthcare Forum is developing – must show how stakeholders are related to each other, to the patient, and to the big picture in healthcare. This is a universal truth, not limited to any particular geography.

Unfortunately, we still live in a world where many patients’ experiences with their healthcare system is bogged down by information travelling via paper transfer, snail mail and fax. It is inefficient, disjointed and increases the time, effort, and cost spent on receiving and delivering healthcare. When patient information is not connected and is not available to key actors involved in the provision of healthcare, the result is disjointed, incomplete patient records.

This, in turn, can lead to misdiagnosis, medical errors, waste, poor-quality care and, increasingly, insurance providers that deny payment for care that cannot be justified.

We are seeing the increasing deployment of electronic health records (EHR) at great expense across the western world, but there is insufficient training in how best to utilise them for better patient care at lower cost. Health information is still siloed and is not easily accessible by different healthcare providers, nor by patients themselves.

So, imagine a world in which a patient’s health information is available to all stakeholders, when and where they need it. In this world, a patient can share personally collected information – blood pressure, glucose levels, weight, medication tolerance, and so on – that is received and understood by all key players in real time.

Empowering patients

By empowering patients to provide updates on their progress remotely that feed directly into their EHR, they can reduce the need for repeat visits or re-hospitalisation. They can help healthcare providers help them.

Technology has an important role to play in the delivery of world-class healthcare. Secure information about a patient should flow through healthcare systems seamlessly. The quality, cost and availability of healthcare services depends on timely access to secure and accurate information by authorised caregivers. Interoperability cannot be solved by any one organisation in isolation.

What is needed is for providers, innovators, payers, governing bodies and standards development organisations to come together to apply innovative and agile solutions to the problems that healthcare presents.

We can clearly see the pressure that healthcare organisations are under at the moment. Researchers at the universities of Cambridge, Bristol, and Utah found that a staggering 14 million people in England now have two or more long-term conditions – putting a major strain on the UK’s healthcare services. To add to this, recent figures show that more than half of healthcare professionals believe the NHS’s IT systems are not fit for purpose.

Not having the right technological systems in place can only exacerbate problems that negatively impact a patient’s care. Better health IT can help reduce medical error, variability in clinical outcomes and practices, and can improve countless other healthcare services. The quality of these services will ultimately depend on real-time access to accurate data.

Healthcare leaders should therefore strive to create an ecosystem where patient information can be securely and electronically transferred across organisational and geographical boundaries. This interoperability will be key to enabling care-driven digital transformation across the globe.

Jason S Lee is director of the Open Group Healthcare Forum

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