‘There’s a real revolution going on’

EMC, Graetz

(HealthTech Wire / Interview) There’s a sea-change happening in patient engagement – and it’s been brought about by healthcare information technology (HIT), EMC’s Michael Graetz tells HealthTech Wire.

What are some of the things that are forcing change in the way physicians interact with patients?

Well there are two very interesting things going on. First, if you look at World Bank and UK Office for National Statistics figures, there are a lot more people living in rural areas today than there were before. At the same time, many of the GPs – and highly skilled others - within the healthcare professions simply don’t want to live out there. So there’s a growing problem of lack of skills, lack of resources and of the medical technology to treat people in rural areas.

But there’s something else happening too. Advances in technology are enabling patient engagement to happen in remote areas, albeit in some cases virtually or remotely, despite this – and this is enabling healthcare services to function in a more effective way than they would have done otherwise.

It’s also enabling healthcare to work in a much more cost-effective way than would otherwise be the case. And this is just the beginning! As more people move to the countryside, there will be an increasing need for ever more sophisticated technology, whether this is remote monitoring, teleradiology services or virtual GP visits – which will enable patients living in remote areas to get more of the care they need. And this is truly revolutionary! This idea is supported by recent research that predicts that video visits by GPs will double by 2020.

Have you got any examples that can help bring this point home for readers?

Having already mentioned the World Bank, perhaps we could use the banking sector as an example. I would say that a similar revolution was taking place in that industry perhaps 20 years ago. At that time, banks had branches all over the place. They would compete with each other through how many branches they each had in the high street. What you see over time, however, is a move away from this, and towards competing more by developing their electronic presence; their multi-channel presence.

So banks now communicate with you, their customer, through the most cost-effective channels available. Their metropolitan areas, having more footfall, can maintain their general functions, with the rural branches becoming more specialised – say for instance, in private banking or industry investment and so on. 

The majority of the people, however, will move away from this – and communicate with the bank through their multi-channel communication mediums. And with that the banks can start to dramatically reduce their costs.

So do you see this phenomenon happening now within the healthcare industry?

Yes I do. If you think about those rural areas that we’ve been talking about, the professors, the smart guys who do the sophisticated diagnostics of cancer and other diseases, the radiologists… they won’t be there. However, with the right technology, people in those remote areas could be linked in to the people and the facilities, located in the metropolitan areas, to enable the diagnosis, the interpretation and so on to take place.

And I’ve witnessed this working out in Africa, in those places you don’t have any care points, physicians and healthcare professionals can still engage with the patient on the phone; patients can still be virtually engaged with the medical profession.  

So how could this kind of patient engagement help make the healthcare system more efficient and effective?

If you are in the middle of nowhere and you are bitten by a snake, for example, you may have an hour’s grace, half an hour’s grace, before it’s something to worry about. You need the systems in place to able to determine whether you need the chopper to be flying the patient out to the nearest facility or whether they can take their time and get there by their own means. And these are decisions that can, for example, increasingly be made by virtual means – by video or audio - and facilitated by remote monitoring technology or telemedicine.

Other positive outcomes of these advances in technology would be that people will have to travel less in order to be consulted or to get the care they need. The total cost of managing patient care would go down. And it would mean less people going to the clinics or hospitals – and so more space for the people who really need to be there to be treated - and for people to be treated in less stressful ways.

So what are some of the things we need to get in place for this patient engagement to happen?

First, we have to make use of the patient data in an effective way. This data needs to be consolidated and managed through an integrated, patient-centric platform that can be linked in and shared with all other devices and systems that are being used, to provide seamless patient care.

There’s been a lot in the Press recently about physician resistance to such new ways of working, but couldn’t this kind of platform actually save them time?

Yes. If I, the patient, can engage with my healthcare service more online, I will only go in to see them when I really need to. This will not only make the most of my time – I won’t need to travel so much – but it will also make the most of the physician’s time, as he or she will be able to manage their workload better. And if that’s not a revolution – even a revelation – I don’t know what is!


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