Around the world, shifting demographics are putting more pressure on health systems that are struggling to catch up to changing expectations.
Not only are patients becoming more informed about treatment options and more adept at managing their own health, but they are looking for more proactive, preventative options tailored to their specific needs when they do interact with care providers.
Technology is at the crux of this — serving as both the driver of change and the solution. It has already fundamentally changed how we stay healthy, how and when we get treatment, and how we interact with our care providers.
The recent explosion of wearable devices is one positive change that will drive better care through real data. Fitness bands and mobile phones equipped with sensors that can monitor health activity are now widely available and affordable. For individuals, real data can be aggregated and analyzed on health platforms, helping them understand how to make changes towards wellness and to go beyond a “quantified self” to a “knowledgeable self.” It also drives more meaningful interactions with patients and physicians by giving clinicians a more comprehensive view through the patient’s actual heart rate, activity and sleep data.
Mobile devices are also being used in a closed loop fashion with providers to more proactively monitor and manage chronic disease. For example, Health Choice Network, a Miami-based company that connects a network of community health centers with more than 760,000 patients across 17 states, is conducting a pilot project that provides smartphones to diabetes patients to help them better manage their own care. In partnership with TracFone, 100 patients are using Windows 8 phones to receive reminders about tracking blood sugar levels, filling a prescription the next time they are near the pharmacy and talking to their doctors about their treatment plan.
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The very nature of mobile phones’ portability and computing power also offers distinct advantages for care in the field which is especially important with aging services and disease surveillance work. With aging populations and related increase in chronic disease, nowhere is the potential for efficiency greater or the risk of lost data higher than in health services. When supported by secure cloud solutions, health workers can connect smartphones and other devices, data systems and processes to get the information they need to do their jobs better wherever their location.
In the Netherlands, Florence Zorg, a home care provider is using mobile and secure cloud services to connect its 4,000 employees and 1,500 volunteers who work in residential care homes or in clients’ homes. Spread across locations in Rijswijk, Delft, The Hague, Leidschendam, Voorburg, Voorschoten and Wassenaar, the organization’s employees use several hundred laptops, tablets and smartphones to access and enter data into health records when traveling between patients and facilities ensuring information is both up-to-date and accessible. Similarly, for Operation Smile this means being able to use flexible 2-in-1 devices that can convert from laptops to tablets for patient screening on a recent mega-mission to Vietnam.
Building on the new ability for distributed care, other organizations are exploring ideas such as remote rehabilitation through Kinect like the Dubai Health Authority. DHA is using Kinect remote sensor technology for physical therapy and rehabilitation of patients as they perform physical therapy exercises in the privacy of their own homes. This type of therapy has already proven effective in many applications, including for stroke recovery.
But telehealth is not just about interactions between patients and clinicians or between clinicians — it also includes machine to machine communication where data streams from clinical-grade devices is being pulled into the system to further support decision making. In Sweden, Aerocrine, a company that makes air quality sensor devices used by patients to measure the amount of nitrous oxide and inflammation in their airways to monitor and manage asthma, is using the cloud to collect data from its devices. This information about usage and performance can in time be used to provide a snapshot of air quality in various regions around the world based on the incidence of inflammation.
The reality is that in global health, big changes can only happen when we involve all constituents — patients, insurers, health organizations and governments — and begin to think about issues holistically. Technology is finally catching up to the real challenges in health care delivery with solutions that make care easier, more convenient and more secure — ultimately benefiting everyone.
Healthy Means is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Concern Worldwide, Gavi, GlaxoSmithKline, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Johnson & Johnson and the United Nations Population Fund to showcase new ideas and ways we can work together to expand health care and live better lives.