A guest post from Ron Emerson, Polycom’s Global Director of Healthcare. Ron is a Registered Nurse and respected expert on telehealth. He is also a former member of the board of Directors for the American Telemedicine Association and Chair of the Industry Council.
When it comes to a vision for the future of healthcare, it is clear that organisations and governments are recognising the need for many changes in the way we care for patients. At the heart of healthcare reforms lies the need for massive improvements in productivity and efficiency, in light of challenges such as physician shortages, delivering healthcare to rural populations, rapidly ageing societies, and unnecessary expenditures.
The global healthcare industry faces renewed pressure to find new and innovative ways with which to extend healthcare services that are patient-centric and cost effective. Studies show that better care coordination and reducing avoidable hospitalisation results in better clinical outcomes for patients, thereby reducing costs. On a global scale, we are seeing a paradigm shift from treating the ill to preventing illness with associated cost reduction. There is also renewed focus on prevention and wellness programmes to reduce hospitalisations, and a shift towards more patient-centred care models. This would rely heavily on such factors as changing patient behaviour through better education and awareness, and treating patients at the point-of-care (such as their homes or local community centres).
What does this mean for the state of healthcare in the decade to come? For a start, changes in mindset and strategic objectives are becoming evident, as healthcare organisations focus on three main areas to increase efficiency and reduce costs:
How to keep in contact,
How to keep people healthy, and
How to keep chronic disease from quickly turning into an acute episode (and thereby reduce hospitalisation and treatment costs).
In the face of future challenges, today’s healthcare model requires prevention and wellness programmes, and easy access to expert consultations no matter where or when the need arises. Furthermore, there is no question that it is more efficient to move information than to move people – and this paves a clearer path to productive healthcare delivery.
Distance technology for healthcare – particularly the growth of telemedicine or telehealth – has offered opportunities to realise these new models of care delivery. Telehealth or telemedicine, broadly speaking, is the electronic exchange of medical information – this could mean something as simple as sharing a photo of a lesion, to viewing a patient’s blood pressure status, to accessing a patient’s complete medical history, to specialists discussing a clinical study. The growth statistics for telehealth are staggering; market research firm IHS predicts the U.S. telehealth market will grow from $240 million in 2013 to $1.9 billion by 2018, representing an annual growth of 56 per cent. Globally, the growth is predicted to be even more astounding as BCC Research suggests the telemedicine market will triple to $27.3 billion in 2016, from $9.8 billion in 2010[i].
These statistics make it all the more evident that the landscape of healthcare delivery is changing – and requires rapid transformation to cope with the pressures placed on the industry. Private sector organisations in particular are choosing telehealth as they focus on being measured on value and quality of care services rather than just a fee-per-service model. The reality is that people spend the majority of time at work or in their homes, but these are the two locations where it has been more difficult to get the same level of care as you would by visiting a hospital. As governments and healthcare organisations realise this, there is also an increasing shift towards home care and remote patient monitoring (outside hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes), to deliver effective healthcare services with reduced expenditure. Statistics show that three million patients worldwide are already receiving professional care by being connected to home medical monitoring devices; this number is expected to grow to 19.1 million patients around the world by 2018[ii]. A greater emphasis is also now being placed on population health management, focusing on preventing problems before they develop for better clinical and patient outcomes and more cost-effective delivery of care.
Video-Enabled Care Delivery
Video collaboration technology and telehealth are effective tools in shaping these new care delivery models. In addition to traditional doctor-patient consultations, video technology enables face-to-face collaboration across the whole spectrum of stakeholders – between doctors and hospitals, patients and consultants, and other supporting professionals – independent of physical barriers.
We have seen some incredible instances of video-enabled care delivery in practice and the resulting benefits to patients and care providers. For example:
▪ The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK utilises video to provide a range of services such as reaching new mothers in their homes for lactation consulting and well-baby visits, connecting stroke victims with remote doctors, providing specialist paediatric neurology services to more patients, and enabling nurses to monitor the progress of renal care patients
▪ South Carolina Department of Mental Health in the US connects to patients in emergency rooms via video for telepsychiatry consultations and rapid intervention, a move which resulted in a saving of USD $24 million over three years
▪ The Canterbury and West Coast District Health Boards in New Zealand use telehealth solutions to reach a larger population over vast distances, increasing the number of cases paediatricians are able to handle and reducing the burden on patients to travel long distances
▪ Silver Chain Group in Western Australia uses mobile video solutions to connect patients in the comfort of their own homes with specialists who can, for example, view wounds and monitor medication adherence
For a healthcare organisation, video-enabled care delivery makes strategic and financial sense. Likewise, for patients it puts management of their health back into their own hands and reduces unnecessary travel time and associated costs. For medical professionals, video collaboration opens up new opportunities in coordinated care delivery, sharing of expertise, and continuing medical education and training.
Fundamental to any technology deployment in healthcare is that quality of care is not compromised. Video collaboration solutions not only provide the human interaction and face-to-face element, so important for any consultation, but innovation and a broad range of technology have enabled customised solutions for patient examinations and a multidisciplinary approach to healthcare delivery. This means that with High Definition visuals, bespoke accessories on telemedicine carts, or remote patient monitoring capabilities on mobile devices, clinical workflow becomes much more efficient and collaboration happens naturally – without the barriers of distance and accessibility.
Healthcare in 2025
The healthcare industry is indeed evolving – ageing populations, healthcare reform and rapidly increasing costs are forcing us to do things differently. As we move more towards population health, the entire care team will be responsible for the patient’s outcomes instead of just the physician/clinician. With these changes, comes the need for connecting care team members, patients, and families in an effective manner – regardless of location or device. Increasing patient engagement and awareness through greater collaboration and information exchange will become a key driver in achieving better clinical outcomes. As such, the realities of geography, demographics and provider shortages is making video and collaboration tools key to the changing landscape of healthcare.
What do you think? At Polycom we are currently gathering global perspectives on the future of healthcare. If you wish to participate, please have your say here.