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At home in a virtual hospital


By Toni Skokovic


Until 2020, healthcare delivery operated under a well-established and robustly regulated model centered on acute and reactive care. Regional hospitals arose from a need to treat more patients while controlling costs and limited resources. Healthcare centered on large medical centers because it seemed logical to consolidate the volume into fewer, but significantly larger facilities. It’s no wonder that acute care is now the most expensive component to healthcare.


Over time, the world adopted a reactive healthcare model, partially due to the varying financial models in the healthcare sector, but also by changing political climates.

When healthcare funding is needed, politicians and media alike show up to ribbon-cutting ceremonies of new hospitals. To further attract research donations for cures to new and old diseases, acute care centers of excellence pop up at various universities. But, we now know that not every healthcare problem can be solved with a multi-million-dollar facility.


So now what?

The most recent challenge to our global health system, the COVID-19 pandemic, compels us to revisit how this machine works and technology can clearly play a pivotal role to improve the quality of its outcomes. However, it goes deeper than simply digitizing the established practices and creating a more efficient version of the status quo. Delivering care more rapidly and proactively poses a far bigger challenge.

The time for this transformation is now. Adopting new technologies in delivering old-style care is not going to cut it. We must transform our care delivery model with integrated, scalable technology as its foundation.

The surprise arrival of a new coronavirus provides the world with a transformational opportunity. It’s time to think bigger, bolder, and stretch further, starting with defining a modern healthcare model that works for all parties: patients, providers, and payers.


Where should we start?

Empowering primary care physicians with secure, technology-enabled tools helps reduce the dependency on emergency acute care as doctors prioritize prevention through wellness and education. Such an investment, although sizable, could mitigate risk and significantly decrease emergency room visits by transforming every patient’s home into their personalized healthcare center.


To delivering such a holistic and accessible healthcare experience anywhere in the world, you must shift the data paradigm. Thanks to the public’s dependency on smartphones and tablets, access to personal data has never been easier or greater than now. And, that access will continue to expand as countries embrace new technologies like 5G.


What about privacy?

Although the issue of privacy conjures up scenes from the movie Minority Report, people today already provide their personal data, through geolocation and personal preferences, to streaming services, banks, and even Starbucks. Why are pharmacists, family doctors, and wellness coaches excluded?


Patients, consumers, and people at large relinquish the responsibility of data security and privacy adherence to individual companies, large corporations, financial institutions, and governments. Unfortunately, our current system creates an unavoidable impasse for healthcare technology developers.


The patient stands at the center of every viable and scalable data-driven solution. Access to all personal data must be controlled by its one true owner–the patient. Regardless of economic sectors, privacy legislation must recognize the patient’s sole ownership right to their personal data.


Who should secure personal data?

Currently, information gathered by the devices we use every day remains in the custody of regulatory bodies, insurance companies, telecom corporations, and smartphone manufacturers. The data paradigm must shift to a patient-centric model. Canadian technology companies like Cinchy, BioConnect, and Cloud DX promote the concept of an individual’s digital ID, secured and governed by the patient.


The current system of licensing data, securing information by regulated or commercially motivated entities, and of incentivizing providers prevents the business world from embracing a user-centric data paradigm. If anything, we should expect tech companies accustomed to monetizing user data, like Google and Facebook, to fight this move tooth and nail.


Even so, user data, especially from personal devices, belongs to the user and it should get stored securely with their digital ID, denying all others access to it without the user’s explicit permission, including the original equipment manufacturer. In addition to overhauling the way data gets managed and secured, we also need to adopt universal set of rules for sharing personal data to protect our privacy as consumers.


The technology to usher in a new era of personal empowerment exists today. With the advent of digital ID services, the path to a holistic, virtual home healthcare model quickly comes into focus. Collective challenges like pandemics can bring about great advancements if the will for change can sustain itself.


Courage, combined with innovative technology and regulatory alignment, will forge a new healthcare delivery platform, able to connect every home with the best possible care available. Our future healthcare systems must put their focus on keeping people healthy instead of simply treating the sick. Are you ready to embrace a healthier future? I know I am.

Toni Skokovic is a Toronto-based healthcare technology executive providing strategic consulting services to businesses across North America.

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