March 17, 2017
By: Michael Pitsch

Patients lose out due to dormancy of potential digitisation-driven organisational transformation

Analysis indicates that if current trends continue unabated, and organizational status quo is maintained, some European health systems could face financial insolvency in 10 to 20 years. According to the OECD, public spending on healthcare and long-term care in OECD countries is set to increase from around 6% of GDP today to almost 9% of GDP in 2030 and as much as 14% by 2060, unless governments can contain costs. Globally, healthcare organisations must somehow face this increase without curtailing its ability to respond to society’s needs.

An obvious cause is aging population, but national healthcare priorities are globally similar, and unchanged: broad availability of effective medical services, efficiently and tailored-made provided to improve citizens’ health conditions. The obvious question is: “What can be done to provide them sustainably?”

Certainly, benefits from IT solutions are evident in other branches of the economy, and healthcare IT could play an essential part in creating and maintaining sustainable public care systems. I refer, here, not to IT for its own sake, but rather more specifically to the conversion of raw anonymized health data into useful health management information. Healthcare may well be the only industry which still does not make significant, appropriate use of the full potential of IT, or of data, and in which competitive advantage is not based on information (drawn from these sources).

Digital health broader than e-health

When I say “digitization,” this is precisely what I have in mind, which is why “digital health” is a preferable term to “e-health.” The “e-” prefix is often (mistakenly) associated simply with making services available online. However, it’s better defined as the integration of previously dispersed processes information, to provide more personalized healthcare such as home care and the use of wearable technologies to self-track vital signs, fitness and lifestyle.

One obstacle to this move has been patient data protection. Many object to gathering and distributing data in electronic form, no data archiving method guarantees absolute security...but this applies to both electronic solutions and conventional ones. The disappearance or abuse of paper-based patient records in the course of years seem more likely than storing data in modern IT systems based on latest security standards.

Patients willing to share data

Most patients seem to agree, too. The majority believe that the benefits of sharing medical information electronically outweigh the risks, per Accenture´s 2016 Consumer survey.

Accenture´s 2016 Consumer survey

To them, effective treatment is top priority. They are willing to make their data available, knowing that this is the way to effective diagnosis and treatment according too.

In Denmark, between 1,200 and 3,000 people die every year due to preventable medical errors that occur during hospitalization, according to Danish Society for Patient Safety estimates. If a patient’s medical history is not known during an emergency, inappropriate treatment could result in acute allergic reaction or death. Medical patient data platforms (for consultation by doctors) were only created when specific numbers were established and the exact nature of the problem pointed out.

Another example: roughly 95 percent of prescriptions in Estonia are digital. Chronic patients do not have to see a doctor for a printed prescription—this happens at home, via the Internet. What is more, they can find the nearest drug store stocking their medication, and order it online. This improves speed of delivery, eliminates dispensing errors, and encourages patient compliance with prescribed treatment.

Governments must learn that digitization is not a matter of technological solutions or replacing paper with computers, but rather a way to improve healthcare system and services effectiveness, and improve health outcomes for citizens.

I´d be interested in your perspective, please get in contact.

Read the first part of my blog.

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