Collaboration for better health outcomes
Susheela Venkataraman , MD Internet Business Solutions Group, Cisco
Globally, new ways of working and living have resulted in changed health scenarios. Changing lifestyles, increased levels of stress, and changes in the environment have brought new diseases to the forefront, both in urban and rural areas. An explosion in the availability of information due to technology innovation, has increased awareness and enabled access to clinicians, healthcare workers and infrastructure when and where required, thereby increasing healthcare expectations.
At the same time, three new trends in healthcare have come to the fore. They are:
a) From 'Care' to 'Health' - Focus is shifting to early diagnosis and treatment, bringing down cost and increasing productivity. Avoidance of disease is gaining priority, taking us beyond just curing the disease.
b) From 'Hospital' to 'Home' - Modern technology and healthcare practices allow minimization of hospital stay, resulting in lower costs and dislocation. The larger prevalence of chronic diseases implies that the primary location of patient care is the home, rather than the hospital or clinic.
c) From 'Prescription' to 'Participation' -As the location of care shifts to the home, the need for participation by the patient and caregiver increases. In case of chronic diseases, the nature of treatment dictates that patients take charge of managing the condition and hence the recovery process. All of this is enabled by increased information availability, making the patient more empowered to deal with disease. Evidence-based medical practice (applying the best available evidence gained from scientific methods to clinical decision making) begins to gain greater importance.
The above trends signal a change in the priorities of various healthcare stakeholders. Clinics, hospitals, laboratories, providers of support services, emergency responders, home and long -term caregivers, the Government and private players who are part of the healthcare ecosystem, must work collaboratively to meet the new expectations and needs of their patients.
Collaboration as a way of working is not new to the health system. It is becoming more of an imperative as the priorities of the industry and customers change. There are several areas in which better efficiencies and effectiveness could be achieved through closer collaboration in the ecosystem.
a) Collaboration between the patient, care-giver and doctor: Aspatients demand to take charge of their own health, the need for empowerment is increasing rapidly. The role of the practitioner is undergoing a change, even as the patient and their care-givers become better informed and equipped to take action on their own.
b) Collaboration between the doctor and nurse: Collaboration between various departments allows quicker exchange of information and application of specialized knowledge to specific situations or patient needs. Apart from such interactions, the ability to reach a resource (physical, human or informational) is critical to delivering speedy service to the patient. These resources maybe spread across the hospital and outside of its boundaries. Improved patient outcomes also result from increased collaboration between nurses, physicians, and the supply chain network.
c) Collaboration between specialists: This is important especially in complex medical response situations. The ability to exchange information rapidly - not just send information back and forth, but also to be able to discuss interactively, based on evidence, is critical. The timeliness of such an intervention adds to the benefit.
ICT and collaboration
Healthcare providers around the world are increasingly utilizing Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to collaborate and improve patient experience. A few examples are described here.
a) Patients and specialists can employ ICT tools to connect across locations. This ensures that the required person can be reached wherever they are, whenever required, by overcoming the limitations of time and location. Using ICT tools caregivers can be alerted automatically when lab results are available while the hospital can be enabled to provide support services to in-home caregivers such as family members.
b) Availability of dependable, easy-to-use solutions and devices that can be remotely read and interfaced to the various related applications adds to the speed and accuracy of diagnosis. Display devices for dissemination of information allow broadcast to multiple devices and address differences in language, local sensitivities and literacy levels.
c) Collaboration solutions enable referring physicians to connect and share knowledge. Combined with video and voice interaction, e-learning and remote education makes it easy to share understanding and experience rapidly. Use of remote collaboration breaks down silos and improves communication between departments and organizations, while rich media conferencing solutions with web-based meeting capabilities enhance training and provide access to remote expertise.
d) Enterprise-level interconnectivity helps provide better care for patients, whether they are being treated at an urban emergency room or a rural doctor's office. Integrated health, inventory and logistics management systems support the core activities of a hospital. The large amount of data generated and collected, can provide actionable insights to policy makers as well as the entire healthcare ecosystem, using data mining and alerts.
In essence therefore, healthcare organizations looking for innovative ways to increase productivity and improve quality of care can use collaboration solutions to quickly gain access to people, resources and information. While reducing the cost of care and time to treat, this will create an efficient human network that contributes to better health outcomes.