Opinion article

Bridging the technological gap towards integrated, connected care

Philips Australia and New Zealand Managing Director, Kevin Barrow, examines bridging the technological gap towards integrated and connected care in the health sector.

At the recent CEDA event NSW Health Outlook 2016, The Hon Jillian Skinner stated that “the challenges that NSW, and health systems all over the world are now facing, are not simple tasks.” She shared with attendees that one of the ways the NSW government is working smarter through investing in innovation and technology and integrated care.

Meeting the challenges that the Minister outlined of an ageing population, the rise of chronic disease and a finite health budget, will require a new approach to healthcare; one that facilitates technology to ‘connected care’ to address the integration of all parts of the health system, from patients and their carers, family and friends, to doctors and hospitals, insurers and the government. It is based on real-time communication, enabled through emerging technologies that include secure networks, linking software and devices monitoring key health indicators.

Why, if the technology exists, are we still failing to connect and engage with our patients, is a cause for concern for all health professionals. This disconnect can become a bottleneck preventing a move to a more integrated system. The healthcare industry needs to come together to make sure that the expectations and reality of both groups are aligned.

The value of integration

At Philips, we commissioned the Future Health Index (FHI), one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind undertaken in recent years, with more than 25,000 patients and 2600 healthcare professionals (HCPs) polled across 13 countries, providing perceptions on their views of the current healthcare landscape.

In Australia 2063 patients and 201 HCPs were surveyed with several in-depth interviews done among HCPs, insurance professionals and public policy makers to supplement the survey results, to measure Australia’s readiness related to the accessibility and level of integration of healthcare services, and the adoption of connected care technology throughout national healthcare systems. Australia ranks fourth out of the 13 countries, with its index score of 57.9 largely driven by its above average scoring on access to healthcare across the continuum that ranges from healthy living and prevention to diagnosis, treatment and home care.

The report’s main focus was to demonstrate how using technology can foster integration and connected care within the healthcare system to drive efficiencies and economies of scale. Connected care technologies including medical grade devices to monitor critical vital signs like heart rate and respiration can make integrated healthcare a reality – allowing doctors to deliver more personalised treatment plans, and patients to connect and engage with their healthcare professionals and specialists, virtually anywhere, anytime.

The FHI showed that 77 per cent of surveyed Australian patients and 90 per cent of HCPs agree it is important that Australia’s health system be integrated. The truth is that technological adoption and healthcare education, alongside fundamentals such as access to health services, can vary considerably according to demographics and income levels, towns and states. As more and more ‘digital natives’ become comfortable with connected care technology, the more patients’ trust in – and demand for – connected care technology will grow.

On the technology side, in many ways, while  healthcare data is proliferating, data sharing continues to be a challenge. The vast majority (70 per cent) of Australian patients surveyed say they have to repeat the same information again and again to multiple care providers and more than a third of patients (41 per cent) face difficulty accessing their own medical records.  This does not only happen when they move from one setting to another, for example, from one hospital to another hospital it also happens when they are moving from one doctor to another within the same institution. Although 52 per cent of the patients own or use one or more connected care technologies, only a minority of them say they’ve ever shared information with their HCP (32 per cent), and only one-in-four HCPs (27 per cent) say that some or most of their patients share this information with them.

So, whether a personal choice or institutional objection, there are obstacles to information sharing in the healthcare world. But much like how electronic banking, online shopping and mobile communication became mainstream in most areas of the world, so too will eHealth. Investing in new technology is not the panacea for all ills and cannot be effective in isolation. Technology can be an enabler to integration but without leadership, guidance and behavioural change, it won’t inspire real transformation.

For that reason, in the coming years, healthcare professionals, providers and governments will need to work together to drive positive change and meet patients at least half-way. In terms of striking a balance between educating patients and ensuring they engage with their healthcare professionals, connected care technologies may very well have a part to play, even if getting there will require a different roadmap per state or at national level. This presents a real opportunity to establish an approach to healthcare that encompasses the use of this data and improves the overall healthcare system.

About the authors

Kevin Barrow

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Kevin Barrow is the Managing Director Australia and New Zealand for Philips. Kevin has more than 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry across a broad range of business-to-business and business-to-consumer companies. He holds an MBA from the Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Sydney, Australia and has a Master of Science (Hons) from the Waikato University, Hamilton, New Zealand.