Care On Our Own Terms

As Kaveh Safavi of Accenture continues his annual look at our global healthcare, we look at the changes that healthcare providers have to face up to, and ask – what are they afraid of?

Fear manifests itself in a number of ways. The traditional route in surgeries and hospitals, is to stick to the status quo. Nobody gets fired for doing what they always did. or to put it more directly – burying one’s head in the sand. As said above, nobody gets fired for being myopic.

I “get” that fear of the unknown, is relevant. But fear of what we already have, and which the public are increasingly demanding – should be a wake up call. The question is, – is fear of progress created by simple lack of understanding.

People that know about these things in UK NHS Management, tell me that “the NHS will be fully digitalised within the next 20 years”. This is both 20 years too late, and also misunderstands what we mean by digitalisation, and what you and I increasingly demand from our healthcare providers.

For a start, just about all of us in possession of our Apple Watch, our Smart mobile – are already capable of managing our own health and scary symptoms, in real time, online, thanks very much, from the comfort of our armchair. When we call our Doctor, phone our hospital – we already have the data, personally and as consumers, of our own health situation. And moving on – as patients, we do not need the large corporate AI to automate the personal data that our hospital does not yet have. What we need, is the immediate link between our personal way of life, and people who know how to treat us at a place called a hospital, when we get sick.

So when Kaveh Safavi, Health spokesman at Accenture – says in his recent Seminar at HIMSS Europe – that patients are now increasingly moving away from traditional routes to health provision – he is sounding a warning bell. And he has the global numbers to prove it.

What he says is, – is that trad primary care is in decline. In the years 2013-2017, use of virtual access to healthcare, rose in the USA by some 200%. Already, in the UK, some 33% of the population go online to access our healthcare provider, at least once per year. In Finland, some 67% of the population would gladly get their healthcare access online – if only the infrastructure was there to do so.

But interestingly, – what Kaveh eloquently also says is – this is no cause for alarm. It is simply that, as patients and that dreaded word “consumers”, we are making lifestyle choices. It is not a case of “either/or”. Or “A or B”. It is a multiple choice of A-B-C-D-E, and these choices are based on what is the best availability of the healthcare that we need, that fits our lifestyle. So, if we prefer to drop in to a walk in clinic at our train station en route to the office – so be it,- as long as they have access to our data. Some regions are already recognising this Scénario. In Spain, some 33% of the population go online for virtual healthcare, and a further 83% prefer a retail environment to get primary care access.

This means two things; first – if we believe that prevention is better than cure, then investment and recognition needs to go into the provision of consumer based services. As said above, the growth of smart phone solutions means we are all doctors now. And that second, there is nothing to fear from a mix of healthcare provision at our local hospital. You could argue that the relevance for a hospital will increasingly be the provision of every level of walk in service, in the same way that supermarkets in Sweden offer walk in healthcare.

I’m sure Steve Jobs did not envisage the tangential App development in our personal lives, when Apple launched the iPhone all those years ago. But we live in a real world. And if you are reading this article on your ipad as you travel to work – well, that wasn’t too scary now, was it?

CARE ON OUR OWN TERMS.

We look at how patients are becoming consumers and are driving the growth of virtual technology in healthcare.

One of the most relevant discussions for the future of UK healthcare, was not taken in any formal setting. My colleague was not visible on my Skype screen, and I was some 500 miles distant, sitting on my sofa, drinking tea.

It is an irony that is not lost on either of us. At a time when the key assumption of the benefit of the HIMSS  2018 Conference, is face to face interaction, my counterpart Kaveh Safavi of Accenture is eloquently discussing the essential benefits of his Presentation on virtual healthcare, that he made just a few hours earlier sitting in Barcelona; and I am nowhere to be found.

“Virtual healthcare” has taken over as the buzzword from the more difficult term “A.I”, which nobody could understand. And it is not before time. If the WHO is saying that by the year 2030, we will have a shortage of some 15 million healthcare professionals – the one thing we don’t need is to carry on putting in place more and more clinics, with longer and longer waiting times, for an ever increasing number of patients, with nursing staff that we do not have. Better option is first enabling our existing resources to work optimally.

We have reached a critical moment where the population (that’s you and I) – are increasingly comfortable using our smartphones, our Apple Watches, our connected meters, etc – to deliver our our health data to responsible health people who can manage this. But our health service providers are standing still in their acceptance that things have to change. And so, if this remote interaction works – and the technology exists to bring health data remotely into the distant screens – why is the rate of traction in Europe and certainly the UK – so slow?

The answer is many and varied, and it comes from not communicating the benefits – and also a myopic fear on the part of our providers, of losing their jobs or reducing their salaries. From experience of automation in the commercial sector, neither of those latter scenarios actually would take place.

So far, virtual healthcare has been limited in its explanation, to automatically registering a patient appointment – to go to a clinic, let’s say. But this misses the point. The real benefit is far deeper than that. If we associate virtual healthcare with long standing conditions, let’s say Diabetes for example – (where remote tech is now starting to get traction) – patients and providers will get the immediate benefit of more rapid diagnosis, more motivated and engaged patients, far less cost per patient in monitoring. And they need never visit a clinic at all. In some clinics, holograms have taken over from even seeing a real person.

In short – virtual healthcare is convenient. It also increases the “quality” of the service provided; Because sure if things are wrong and your data is untoward – only then do you go to your clinic, and your Nurse will have far more time to see you, and your discussion will already be personalised and entirely based on the health data you have already sent, in real time, through the very technology you are already wearing on your wrist. You will not be rushed out of the door.

I take a pause in my dialogue with Kaveh and glance at my Apple Health app on my watch – my heart is beating a bit quicker, apparently. I think I’ll take another cup of tea.