This article was first published in the Private Practice.
It doesn’t seem so long ago that Channel 7’s ‘Beyond 2000’ drew the Australian populace in on a weekly basis, with its raft of reporters featuring technological innovations supposed to improve our lives, as well as be widely available soon after that notable historical junction.
Now, having waded almost two decades deep into the 3rd millennium AD, few of those futuristic ideas have come to fruition. However, it is no secret that the world around us has changed in vital ways, with improved technological tools and capabilities largely responsible for a more user-centric global outlook.
In the health arena, care expectations have superseded the former sterile, ‘yes, Doctor’ model where patients may have been viewed as transactional items to feed the mighty pharmaceutical gristmill.
With technology also increasing individual choice in this key area of their lives, people are no longer content to be dictated to concerning their right to healthcare access, nor are they allowing the terms of that care to be established and rolled out without their input.
With patients now insisting their desires, perspectives and wants, as well as their simple needs, be taken into consideration, and given the increased appreciation for the tangible positive outcomes associated with integrating a more holistic treatment style, what impact do these factors have on the clinic of the future?
In addition, the rapid advancement of healthcare technology, as both users and practitioners realise the potential benefits for all parties, will necessarily translate into a design realignment, where savvy operators will seek to futureproof their clinical fitouts to safeguard their practise as a viable and ongoing investment.
Human Centred Design
Human Centred Design (HCD) is the buzzword throughout industries worldwide as operators at all levels come onboard with the reality of their increasingly user-centric target market. HCD encourages an empathetic design style; essentially prioritising a deliberate effort early in the design process to see the final environment through the eyes of end users.
In healthcare, more than perhaps any other industry, there is the opportunity to make a significant improvement in the lives of those for whom the service provider exists. To this end, HCD is increasingly working as the conduit to present a mindful and unified solution that really delivers.
Multiple studies have evidenced the long-lasting impact of a positive care experience, with research correlating a defined relationship between a health provider’s communication skills and their patient’s capacity to follow through with medical recommendations, self-manage a chronic medical condition, and adopt preventive health behaviours (1). Similarly, two studies of patients hospitalised for heart attacks report better health outcomes up to one-year post-discharge for those who had reported a positive care experience during their hospitalisation. (2, 3)
Technological advancements have furthered the cause of HDC largely through fostering an increased accessibility to treatment, by facilitating the communication of up-to-date provider and procedural information. The effect of technology on the financial element of healthcare is also a factor, with previously unattainable testing facilities such as genetic testing now within reach, falling from $100 million per genome in 2001 to approximately $1000 per genome in 2015(4).
In the same way, the degree to which healthcare providers champion user-friendly tools, the more likely they are to optimise funds through heightened user participation.
Above all, technology should be introduced insofar as it will accommodate all users, from practitioner to patient, not the other way around.
Forward – A Case Study
Forward is a member-based healthcare platform founded in January 2016 by former executives and engineering leaders from Google and Uber. Headed up by serial entrepreneur Adrian Aou, Forward was established after a personal experience with the gaps in the current American healthcare system.
The mission of Forward from its inception was to combine the best aspects of physicians with the best aspects of technology, with the goal to provide a higher-quality, lower-cost, and more accessible, healthcare option.
Adrian wanted to integrate the benefits available through technology into this critical ‘experience-heavy’ industry, with the goal of making a healthcare experience feel, “more like going to the Apple store than like doing your taxes” – Adrian Aou.
Forward emphasised the role of technology as a support and resource to doctors, a tool which allowed them to spend their time with patients instead of on administrative tasks. Forward Doctors are connected to software that integrates a wealth of patient data, including genetics, blood test results, and even home sensors to proactively predict and circumvent issues before they become critical.
Forward is focussed on:
1. Improving Quality; through bulk data retention.
2. Lowering Costs; through releasing healthcare professionals from routine tasks.
3. Proactive approach; through actively identifying prospective issues before they happen.
4. Better communication; through 24/7 app for late-night questions
5. Full stack; through the combination of doctors, designers & engineers all working together.
6. Variety of Services; through the continuous addition of new capabilities
It’s a model to watch, and one worth considering given the associated benefits.
In contrast to the isolated and fiercely territorial clinics of old which ran the risk of compromising patient objectives in favour of individual specialist concerns, healthcare professionals are now opting in favour of a collaborative approach, with the goal of providing a holistic model for more satisfied clients.
Specialist collectives are now benefitting from the formation of closely connected hubs, offering services which are complementary, yet distinctive. By each provider feeding into the next, referrals are improved, the local community is enhanced and both the user and the practitioner benefit through a more widely available network, not to mention the financial benefits gained by sharing infrastructure and necessary public spaces, such as car parking.
Deluxe Aged Care
The emerging demographic of the modern world is, in its majority, one of an ageing population. In Australia alone, the number of people aged 65 and over is projected to more than double by 2057(5), creating both pressures, and opportunities, for Australia’s healthcare industry.
Not only is the populace getting older; it’s getting smarter, and more empowered. Technology, once again, is largely responsible for the shift in behaviours and expectations of people as they age, with consumers of any age well-resourced to seek out the options best suited to their requirements. Whether their priority is flexibility, value for money or any number of other outcomes, their ability to choose has stimulated a rush of alternatives as providers rapidly acknowledge the need to delight this growingly discerning consumer group.
The provision of non-patronising and consumer-directed integrated lifestyle services have been demonstrated to significantly impact resident health & wellbeing, which in turn translates to happier customers, and a more sustainable operation.
The provision of fully equipped gyms and personal trainers available to promote physical health may sound more in line with a resort than an aged care facility, however facilitating activity on a daily basis translates into better strength and mobility as they age, which equally affords them with greater choice in other areas of life. Coffee shops, salons, community halls, pool & spa centres and golf facilities are all up for grabs as aged care developers become increasingly aware of the related benefits of a ‘whole of life focus’.
By acknowledging the importance of residents’ capacity to dictate their daily choices, aged care providers will promote individual purpose and meaning in the life of their clients, plus provide the respect and understanding required should their degree of capacity change.
While Beyond 2000 foresaw that we would one day possess wearable computers (although not in the large ‘bumbag’ style they suggested, thank goodness), they may not have imaged that robots would be one of the most integral developments in the field of medical innovation.
In healthcare, as in no other industry, human error can have critical ramifications. Unfortunately, the healthcare environment is also synonymous with double-shifts, hierarchical conflicts and third-party priorities.
Enter a machine that doesn’t need sleep or food, that doesn’t have prejudices, that isn’t able to be influenced and that is eternally consistent. How could this technology change the way we treat people who are sick, and vulnerable? How could it relieve the pressure through adopting the routine tasks, the night-shifts, the precision work?
The healthcare industry is rapidly embracing new technology as it comes online, with innovations such as Hospital Helper robots freeing up valuable human resources to tend patients by delivering messages and samples around hospitals via GPS, and robotic nurses performing routine tasks, including taking blood and even lifting immobile patients from their beds to wheelchairs.
In surgery also there has been a push towards optimising the available technology, with over 1.5 million surgeries having been performed worldwide using the da Vinci surgery experience, removing the need for open surgery through small incisions and tiny, computer-driven instruments. Smaller again are the proposed microbots, which are being developed to travel through bodily fluids to deliver medication exactly to where it’s needed, or even to repair damaged cells.
Robots can support, assist and extend the service health workers are offering, as well as relieve health professionals from repetitive or routine tasks in order to afford them more time to spend face-to-face with their patients.
Remote Patient Monitoring Suite
With so many of our basic needs being met through our mobile devices, whether it be information, financial control, or physical activity, it makes sense that our health and wellbeing should be monitored remotely, with all the functionality required to report on our health condition and any associated treatment plans.
As well as providing coverage and convenience for the patience, the availability of remote patient monitoring such as ITriage, CareAware, and MyChart Mobile also frees up valuable on-site space, reducing pressure on practitioners, decreasing demand for costly Emergency services, and ensuring users are facilitated according to their needs.
Remote monitoring also plays an important part in preventative management by measuring critical risk indicators such as glucose and blood pressure, providing current, patient-generated data to physicians to ensure both doctor and patient are kept informed.
Lightbulbs That Disinfect And Kill Bacteria
Yes, they exist! Specifically, the Indigo-Clean lightbulb, which emits a certain frequency of light that kills dangerous bacteria like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MSRA) almost instantaneously. Acting similarly to bleach, but completely safe for continuous use in a populated space, the bacteria absorb the indigo-coloured light given off by the bulb, resulting in a lethal, internal, chemical reaction which obliterates the bacteria from the inside out!
In summary, the resources available to healthcare have radically evolved and understanding the value these, and similar innovations can provide to your clinic, medical centre or other healthcare facilities, is the first step to securing long-term viability, and vitality, for your practice.
(1)Institute of Medicine. (2003). Health professions education: A bridge to quality. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press
(2)Fremont AM, Clearly PD, Hargraves JL, et al. Patient-centered processes of care and long-term outcomes of acute myocardial infarction. J Gen Intern Med 2001;14:800-8.
(3)Meterko M, Wright S, Lin H, et al. Mortality among patients with acute myocardial infarction: The influences of patient-centred care and evidence-based medicine. Health Serv Res 2010 Oct;45(5):1188-204.
(4) Wetterstrand KA. DNA Sequencing Costs: Data from the NHGRI Genome Sequencing Program. Retrieved December 16, 2016, fromhttps://www.genome.gov/sequencingcostsdata/
(5) Australian Institute of Health & Welfare November 2017
Disclaimer: Views, information or opinions expressed within this article are solely those of the individuals involved and do not necessarily represent the official policy or position of any other agency, organisation, employer or company. These views are subject to change and revision and the author is not to be held responsible for misuse, reuse, recycled and cited and/or uncited content within this article.
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