AUTHOR: Peter Birch, General Manager | MediRecords
A generation ago, the healthcare professional set all the terms of engagement with a patient. As a patient you wouldn’t question the family Doctor, and that would often be your single point of reference for how to manage your health.
Today, things are a bit different. In this changing environment, those healthcare professionals that maintain an attitude of “build it and they will come” will be left behind. We are witnessing a shift in the dynamics of health – not just here in Australia but around the world:
Patients are getting older, sicker, and there are more of them: Over a third of the burden of disease in Australia is due to seven risk factors which can be reduced or prevented by lifestyle and personal behaviour – factors such as smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, excess alcohol consumption and poor nutrition. For us to be a healthier nation, we need behavioural change from patients. Patients can’t make healthy choices if they don’t have information about their health to make meaningful choices about their behaviour.
Patient expectations are changing, the desire for more information and involvement in care is increasing: Patients are keeping a more active track of their health indicators, particularly with the normalisation of smartphones and wearable technology. Recent research says that nearly half of patients that track their health ask their doctor a new question, or obtain a second opinion about the results.
Funding models changing due to ballooning healthcare costs: With initiatives such as Healthcare Homes, we see an appetite from the government to shift towards a funding model that remunerates for better patient outcomes, not just occasions of service. Also, rising out of pocket expenses are becoming more common not just in Australia, but around the world. On the whole, it is becoming more of the norm for patients to be out of pocket for their healthcare. Placed in a position where decisions need to be made on how to spend money on health more wisely, patients will start exercising more choice on where to spend it.
Combine all this and we have a need to drive new efficiencies while at the same time meeting increasing patient expectations to ultimately achieve better health outcomes. In this changing environment, health professionals must create a greater patient experience to improve patient engagement. Technology which gives the patient a place in the complex ecosystem of health is a key enabler of patient engagement.
So, what are some things that health professionals can do to embrace technology and improve patient engagement and ultimately deliver better health outcomes?
With the rise in chronic disease and the ageing of the population, there is rising demand for home nursing services
There are over 100,000 apps across the Apple App Store and Google Play Store focusing on health, wellness, fitness and lifestyle. Some have potential to transform healthcare, others are more likely to further confuse or even worse, mislead patients or health providers. Knowing what is out there is important, as more patients will be asking “what App do you recommend to track this?” or “what do you think about my results I’ve captured in this App?”.
This goes beyond the very real need of filling gaps in regional areas, which is the primary focus of telehealth at the moment. Patient expectations and needs are changing as they become increasingly comfortable with turning to technology for an answer to everything. Patients want more choice and flexibility, and want their clinicians to be digitally-enabled and more accessible than ever before.
We are seeing the rise of more progressive models of care enabled by technology, such as the online consultations and virtual tests – scenarios where it’s clinically appropriate for the physician and patient to never actually physically see each other in the entire episode of care.
Engage via new mediums
There is a growing trend of Doctors contributing to social media, blogs and podcasts – not just to communicate and network with peers, but also to engage with new and potential patients. It’s worth becoming familiar with and contribute to the content that is available online.
Technology can provide transparency and give patients access to their own data like never before. We are in the age of ‘life loggers’ who track everything about their health with a mobile phone, and also in a more complex healthcare environment where patients and carers need easy access to healthcare information of patients to ensure continuity of care across different providers.
Improvements to the physician-patient interactions lead to better-informed patients and get them more involved in their personal care. Adoption of technology that enables greater patient engagement can help address the broad challenges faced in health today.