Looking closely at my neighbors, co-workers and friends it is apparent that the “greying of America” is happening in a big way - and we are all, myself included, getting older. In fact, it’s a trend impacting Europe, Asia and China too with reports indicating that 8.5 percent of the global population (617 million) are over 65, a figure which is set to rise to 1.6 billion by 2050.
As fertility rates decline globally and people live longer (mostly due to improvements in healthcare and nutrition) there is an ironic yet impending problem for society – the lack of access to healthcare services and a tsunami of chronically ill patients who will need a lot of care.
The pressures being placed on health care services
The problem is that the patient pool is larger than the number of doctors available to treat them. This shortage of clinicians is therefore creating a time and distance gap for patients to actually see their doctor – and this will only get more challenging as this shortage worsens over time
Traditional healthcare services require a patient to travel to visit their doctor in a clinic or hospital, with a typical visit lasting about 15-20 minutes – this is after spending roughly 130-150 minutes getting there, filling out paperwork and paying the bill. The doctor will give the patient a prognosis and maybe a prescription to go along with advice on how they can take care of their illness. That’s it – fifteen minutes. That tiny snapshot of their health status is supposed to keep them healthy and out of the hospital for the rest of the year. Most patients misunderstand or forget what the doctor said though – and as a result don’t follow doctors’ orders - a costly outcome of roughly $300B/yr in the US alone.
The role technology plays in simplifying proceedings
There has to be a better way – and there is. For instance, did you know that your Smartphone can be used today to check your blood pressure, do an ECG, check your blood glucose levels, manage pain, monitor your physical environment, or even analyze the breath of asthmatics?
With a little help from modern technology innovative providers are leveraging mobile devices to engage their patients in more frequent communication. That could include anything from gathering clinical data like blood pressure, glucose levels and weight on a much more regular basis to enabling clinicians to provide adjustments to medications and care plans as the patient conditions dictate, talking to and even diagnosing these patients without actually seeing them.
The benefits of engagement
Some of the results from this use of virtual care are astonishingly good! Take as an example the recently published study by Arogya World mDiabetes in August in the Journal of Medical and Internet Research. In a two-year trial one million patients in India were sent text messages twice a week by their doctors to remind them of ways to take better care of their health and manage their weight through good nutrition and exercise - 40 percent improved their health activity as a result.
By keeping their patients engaged on a regular basis and involving them in their own healthcare plan, clinicians demonstrated the power of using a mobile phone to potentially improve health in a large diabetic population.
Twine for instance is seeing outstanding results from its patient interaction program across mobile tablet devices with regards to hypertension. The combined offering with a nurse health coach providing regular updates on blood pressure and more frequent patient engagement, led to a decrease in blood pressure in 42 of 44 participants. These outcomes may lead to better care at lower cost in the future.
The move to augmenting primary care
At Intel we support this move towards augmenting primary care with virtual care solutions. Intel has developed a solution to bridge the digital divide in emerging markets (initially for educators) with a small mobile content access point or CAP – which has storage and a WiFi router built in for local access to content, plus 3G to connect back to a datacenter via the internet. This device can be pre-loaded with clinical care information for diabetic patients and deployed into remote areas and villages. The local patient population can then come to a community center and download information to their Smartphone for later reference at home. Other use cases include population health education on virus outbreaks (think Zika or Ebola) and data collection for population analytics.
The same device can also be used to train the local health care workers in a similar fashion. They get the education they need and can store the content for later viewing and reference – without having to make the arduous journey to the big city hospital which in some cases can be a bus ride of several hours away.
As more and more governments, payers, providers and consumers come to the realization that finding new care delivery models are the only path to caring for a swelling elder patient population in a time of severe clinician shortages, the number of modern mobile technologies being used to deliver virtual care to patients in the community, and at home to supplement primary care in the hospital, will inevitably rise. For patients that means a better experience, better outcomes and a lower cost of care. For the clinician it means more ways to take care of patients with fewer resources and delivering better care with more frequent data on a patient’s health status.
What are you doing to bridge this gap in your community and innovate in care delivery?
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