Proactive care and a healthier society
How Covid-19 can help shape the future of healthcare
By Toni Skokovic
If the arrival of the novel coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that the gaps in our current acute and reactive healthcare model clearly reveal it needs a complete overhaul. As devastating an event as a pandemic also presents a unique opportunity to transform the current healthcare model into one that works much better for patients, providers, and payors.
But what will a fully transformed healthcare system look like?
Two options to consider
Replicating the current system virtually ¾ with the added benefit of innovations created with technology and data management tools ¾ describes some of the ad hoc digitalization currently underway (in varying degrees and at different paces) in countries around the globe.
Thinking bigger and bolder, some regional markets, like the tri-city area of Cambridge- Kitchener-Waterloo, are embracing new integrated possibilities that challenge the status quo, and move beyond the current model to a proactive, holistic, healthcare experience.
But which is better for patients and other healthcare stakeholders?
Virtualizing the status quo
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated the capabilities of the information infrastructure at our disposal today. We see encouraging changes in the transition to virtual care delivery that, very importantly, offer a more efficient virtual version of the acute and reactive care model.
Enhancing our current systems to create a ‘virtual’ status quo has the advantage of avoiding more change, especially after months of upheaval and loss. Very few people or organizations willingly undertake dramatic change, especially when the status quo provides a sense of security and stability.
How proactive care differs
Over time, transaction-based healthcare ceases to advance health and wellness for the patient population. Benjamin Franklin said it best: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
By adopting a proactive care model, we hope to realize a significant reduction in our reliance on medications and procedures, as well as the acute interventions required when a health crisis occurs. Patients benefit when they achieve better health outcomes and require less medical assistance, which in turn decreases healthcare costs.
While patients stand to benefit hugely, the true transformative value of moving to proactive care may emerge in how medicine gets practiced on the frontlines. Let’s take a look at possibilities from the provider’s end.
What really needs to change
Healthcare must move beyond immediate complaints and jump ahead of the illness curve to move patients to general wellness model. Secure communication solutions (in particular, data exchange) can deliver a more timely and effective engagement between front-line physicians and patients. Recent partnerships and investments such as Epic’s Twilio-based telehealth offering, Athena Health’s virtual encounter capability, or a recent launch of Telehealth Portfolio by Philips, are good first steps.
However, to realize the full potential of a proactive care model, providers must look beyond mere access to basic healthcare medical history. Building on the current infrastructure capability, the next iteration of virtual care will access and analyse more data than currently available to physicians, such as nutrition, physical fitness and records from other wellness providers. Creating a critical role for health information exchanges enhances patient outcomes.
With access to the full spectrum of patient data, an informed approach that enables team-based decision-making can deliver a true proactive, holistic healthcare experience. Through this holistic experience, patients receive the correct informed assessment which enables more collaborative conversations between patients and providers, and ultimately prevents expensive, often risky, acute care interventions. One additional benefit is realized through a reduction in the amount of time providers spend educating patients who typically consult the internet for diagnostic information.
Can technology fully support proactive care? With the advent of artificial intelligence in the healthcare sector, a basic engagement infrastructure solidifies. When widely adopted, such predictive tools and information-based decision support systems will take proactive care to the next level.
Incredibly, such a transformation benefits not only patients, it represents a win-win scenario for providers and payors, as well. Providers can reach more patients, realize new efficiencies, and most importantly, deliver a much better patient outcome. Payors see lower costs and healthier, and therefore presumably happier, customers.
What will it take to get there?
Everyone wins when our current healthcare sector double-down on ongoing initiatives, such as nationwide patient record programs. For-profit health providers must be allowed to share and access data securely and consistently. And yes, they must ensure that these new data exchange protocols remain private, secure, and compliant.
Everyone stands to benefit by moving to a proactive, holistic healthcare experience.
Toni Skokovic is a Toronto-based healthcare technology executive providing strategic consulting services to businesses across North America.