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Digitalization is helping rural health services

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Digital photography is helping patients to show how they feel in relation to their treatment plans. This process could significantly aid rural healthcare.

The analysis into digital imaging comes from the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus. The issue relates to people who live alone and in relatively isolated communities (defined as towns with fewer than 7,000 inhabitants). The focus of the research was with patients who have atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm where there is a rapid and irregular beating. Symptoms include heart palpitations, fainting, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or chest pain. The chief medical concern is with the disease being associated with an increased risk of heart failure, dementia, and stroke.

To test out what would happen when people who live on their own and who have the heart condition are given digital technology to help to assess their surroundings, the lead researcher Professor Kathy Rush gave ten patients a digital camera. The patients were asked to take daily photos and to produce a memory card every two weeks, over a period of six months.

While many of the photos portrayed people waiting for, or travelling to appointments, other images told a starker tale. When patients were feeling happier and healthier they tended to photograph scenes from their community; however, when in pain or feeling depressed the patients tended to photograph things like pills or people sitting around in waiting rooms.

Professor Rush thinks these visual cues can reveal a lot of information about a patient, especially where the patient does not see a physician regularly because of their more isolated situation.

She explains in a research note: “The photos gave us access to their days, to things that wouldn’t be reported in a doctor’s office, or on a medical chart, but were an important part of their day-to-day care.”

The academic added: “You don’t always get the full story or picture of what is really going on in their lives. These photos gave us considerable information about the environmental context of living with an illness in rural communities, where there is limited access to services.” The researcher thinks that medics can make more use of the digital photo journals of patients.

The results of the image analysis have been published in the journal Chronic Illness.

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How will decisions made by healthcare organizations now impact the future?

Digital healthcare care is a “new normal.” What’s needed to keep it going? According to an HBR roundtable, stronger support infrastructure and increased investment in digital health.

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With the world in the early stages of COVID-19 vaccine deployment, it’s important to look even further ahead — specifically, how we can keep the momentum going on the digital transformation of healthcare. 

A recent roundtable discussion of CIOs from leading health systems, hosted by Harvard Business Review, concluded there are three main areas of focus for this new digital health frontier: Virtual care, setting, and the patient experience.

“Care providers must understand the ramifications for their digital health function and agenda — and how information technology can address the challenges and opportunities of their ‘new normal,’” wrote a team of experts for HBR, including: John Glaser (executive in residence, Harvard Medical School), J. Marc Overhage, MD (Chief Medical Information Officer, Anthem, Inc.), Janet Guptill (CEO, Scottsdale Institute), Chuck Appleby (Director of Publications & Communications, Scottsdale Institute), and Donald Trigg (President, Cerner).

The first focus — virtual care — comes into play simply because of the numbers, and how quickly solutions had to be implemented. The panel of experts cites one McKinsey study that shows physicians and healthcare professionals are seeing 50 to 175 times more patients by telehealth. As a result, they explain, “health systems must construct a sturdy, permanent bridge that includes organizational, financial, and clinical structures and processes.”

The second focus is on setting, more specifically on patient care being delivered in the most appropriate setting. One example they give is the increasing discussion around chronic care management from the patient’s home, via telehealth or virtual doctor visits.

The final focus relates to patient experience, and how to make digital health align with the quality and efficiency they’ve come to know from other services like Amazon or Uber. According to the roundtable, it comes down to ease-of-use. 

“To meet these expectations, health systems will need to double down on their ‘digital front door’ efforts,” they explain, “enabling patients to handle routine interactions such as scheduling an appointment, paying a bill, finding a doctor, renewing a medication, finding answers to health questions, and navigating the health system itself.”

The opportunity is there to create an even better ‘new normal’ than previous healthcare systems, the roundtable concluded. 

“Covid-19 has forced health care leaders and clinicians to move faster, work smarter, and take a more focused approach to decision-making than ever before.”

Want to read the whole analysis? Head to HBR.

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“Digitization is not a panacea for everything”

Biocon founder Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw on the COVID-19 response, and why Asian companies need to understand, not just embrace digital innovation.

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As founder and chair of global biopharmaceuticals company Biocon, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is on a mission to make healthcare affordable to all.

Under her leadership, Biocon’s mission is to “reduce disparities in access to safe, high-quality medicines, as well as address the gaps in scientific research to find solutions to impact a billion lives.”

Recently, Mazumdar-Shaw sat down for a video conference interview with McKinsey’s Sathya Prathipati and Joydeep Sengupta, senior partners out of the company’s Mumbai and Singapore offices (respectively). 

Here are some key quotes from their interview, where they discussed digital transformation in the COVID-19 response, and digitization:

The difference between Western and Asian organizations:

“While Western companies focus on value capture, Asian companies have tended to be really focused on scale, size, and market share… We have not really focused on innovation to capture value, whereas the Western model is to capture a big piece of the value share with innovation and IP [intellectual property] and to outsource whatever you need in terms of vertical integration.”

How digital transformation accelerated because of COVID-19:

“COVID-19 is a true inflection point. In India, e-pharmacies are becoming a reality, and we see a lot of opportunities to use technology in daily life. We need to leverage and build on that. There was so much resistance to e-pharmacies, but this is a new opportunity. Biocon… started digitizing everything six or seven months before COVID and were able to finish before the pandemic. It’s given us a lot of benefits and showed the huge transformative potential of digital technologies.”

Approaches to digitization:

“Digitization is not a panacea for everything… Yes, the digital world has the potential to accelerate transformation, but you need to understand exactly what digital can do to get the benefits. In our business, data analytics can help us make decisions with lower risks. We just hired a CIO whose whole mandate is to look at our digital infrastructure and see how we can future-proof ourselves. We are thinking about this very carefully, not just a cut-and-paste. That’s why I would rather bring in people from the digital world—from the tech industry—instead of the pharmaceutical industry. We want them to transform old mindsets.”

Read the full interview transcript here.

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After this year, what will healthcare look like in 2021 (and beyond)?

Experts share their opinions on what digital health will look like after a transformation-heavy 2020.

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It’s flat-out impossible to discuss healthcare right now without addressing its digitization, telehealth, and the many ways the sector has leveraged technology to improve everything from systems and workflow to patient outcomes — all in the face of COVID-19.

“There’s no going back on telehealth,” writes Ashwini M. Zenooz, MD — Chief Medical Officer and General Manager for Healthcare and Life Sciences at Salesforce — in Harvard Business Review

Dr. Zenooz does provide a warning, however. She explains that we have to make sure “providers are not only on-board with digital transformation but also see their experience of care enhanced in the process.” She outlines three considerations and requirements:

  • Telehealth adoption “will be more likely to succeed if it is “pulled” into organizations and workflows by providers rather than “pushed” on them by leadership.”
  • Human-centered design is key. Tools like AI, machine learning, and voice technologies will be doing the heavy lifting with respect to the “documentation burden.”
  • “Care coordination, enabled by seamless data sharing, is therefore as important to the provider experience as it is to care quality and outcomes.”

What innovators are saying

And the momentum is there for continued transformation into next year, according to Becker’s Hospital Review. The publication interviewed nine healthcare innovation leaders to get their 2021 predictions.

What are they saying?

Both Jeff Semenchuk (chief innovation officer for Blue Shield of California) and Muthu Krishnan, PhD (chief digital transformation officer of IKS Health) said that digital health solutions will help doctors and patients manage disease-specific care for things like chronic conditions or pregnancy. 

Mohan Nair (senior VP and chief innovation officer of Cambia Health Solutions) raises one critical area of care that we’ve mentioned before: mental health.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and mental health crisis will collide and demand attention. This will enable and force us to face our isolation but recognize our interconnected humanity, our compassion, and our empathy for others. Digital technologies, like telehealth, digital therapeutics and artificial intelligence/machine learning, are all candidates to catalyze a new world with a common cause.”

Nicole Cable, chief experience officer of InnovaCare Health predicts that both millennials and seniors will keep embracing telehealth. Cable emphasizes, however, that tech companies will need to create tools that can help address the care of chronic and complex conditions of aging populations. 

To read more expert predictions, visit Becker’s Hospital Review

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