Susheela Venkataraman, MD, Internet Business Solutions Group, Cisco
In every country, health is a major concern for the government, citizens and businesses. While each country faces its own healthcare issues, developing countries seem to carry the greatest burden of disease and the fewest resources to deal with the problem. In many of these countries, access to healthcare is denied to large groups of people owing to various causes that include an ever growing population, greater number of elderly, increasing urbanization, overcrowding and incidence of new diseases resulting from new ways of working and living.
As care becomes more complex, it requires a specialized workforce to deliver services - often across geographically dispersed areas. The need of the hour is for accessible, affordable, and responsive healthcare solutions, both to the specific, constantly changing medical and clinical needs of patients, and to the broader demographic, social, and cultural shifts that typify the modern world.
The focus is shifting from diagnosis and treatment to avoidance of disease, and the location of treatment increasingly becomes the home. Patients today demand increased participation in their healthcare process. Therefore clinics, hospitals, laboratories, providers of support services, emergency responders, home and long term caregivers, the Government and private players need to communicate and collaborate in other, better ways to meet the new needs of people. All this would be made possible only by employing modern technology tools enabled by ICT.
Using ICT it is possible to provide advanced healthcare services where they can be afforded, along with coverage and knowledge access even in remote areas. An integrated network of systems and technology allows citizens, government, and businesses to connect on a common platform and communicate with each other to make informed decisions regarding their own health, the health of others, and the healthcare system.
Communication is the key to effective healthcare delivery. Many types of communications take place among clinicians, between clinicians and patients, and amongst affected individuals. Technology can be applied to facilitate all these communications in a highly secure and collaborative manner - and in an increasingly mobile environment.
Using the network as the platform, modern collaboration technology solutions enable remote examination and consultation. Supported by fast data, voice, video and real-time telepresence they help to provide healthcare advice, guidance, diagnosis, and treatment by accessing the resources and information even when working close to wherever the patient might be.
Technologies like telepresence for example, offer an intimate, person-to-person communication experience and give the doctor a sense of being in the same room as the patient thereby extending the physicians' judgment to the patient location without the need for travel. For patients they facilitate access to physicians and specialists, other patients, caregivers and members of the healthcare ecosystem located many miles away. This improves patient education, enables wellness management, ensures post-discharge follow up, and provides a better healthcare experience.
Web 2.0 technologies like social networking, video blogs and wikis facilitate seamless exchange of knowledge between members of the healthcare fraternity. Patient or caregiver support groups are now common, that allow patients to participate much more in the treatment and recovery process. ICT devices like laptops, PDAs, mobile phones help to disseminate information remotely to enable better decisions.
Using intelligent information networks it is possible to share patient records appropriately, manage appointment bookings and prescriptions electronically, retrieve information easily and report health events in real time, cost effectively. Automatic alerts can be generated when lab results are available, thus decreasing the time to treatment. Clinicians or hospitals can reach out to, or provide support services to in-home caregivers such as family members, using rich media in addition to voice communication, as has been the case thus far.
Doctor-to-specialist interaction facilitated using audio, video and rich media conferencing technologies help to share understanding and experience across geographies, time zones, and facilities. When driven by an optimized support infrastructure, these tools make it easy and convenient for health workers to collaborate, conduct research sessions, provide training for professional development, and promote e-learning and remote education. Using the network, data and experiences can be exchanged to also help experts adapt global knowledge to meet specific local needs.
Across the globe, governments and healthcare systems have initiated broad healthcare improvement programs, which require a secure, reliable, and increasingly interactive infrastructure to expedite the flow of healthcare data. Several technology solutions exist for the many mechanisms that can be used to deliver collaborative care paving the way for a future where all healthcare stakeholders can respond to patients more efficiently, expand preventive healthcare initiatives, and boost the overall health of communities. However, the ability to combine or integrate all these solutions in a manner that is relevant to the specific situation and issues to be addressed, will determine their successful adoption.