Through telemedicine, doctors and other healthcare professionals can monitor patients online, as individuals can examine themselves and report back electronically. However, creating an appetite for this kind of treatment requires certain attitudes to be adopted. Patients must see the point of this method of care, believing that it will help to make managing their conditions easier, while at the same time, feeling safe and secure.Danish Minister for Health and Prevention Astrid Krag details how smart health solutions can improve patient care, reduce costs and increase quality of life...
While healthcare is at the centre of European welfare states, it is under pressure, with demography and economy posing very real challenges. However, sustained innovation is one important solution to overcoming these problems – in treatment, technology and organisation, it is the reason behind advanced healthcare sectors, as it will also be the reason behind the continued improvement of healthcare, provided that we make the necessary room for it within healthcare systems.
I believe that this comes down to a simple question: are we ready to do things in a new way, if it is better for patients and, at the same time, means that resources are better spent? The simple answer to this question should be 'Yes'.
The 10th High Level eHealth Conference was recently held in Copenhagen. This was a great opportunity to reflect on the development that has taken place during previous years, and exchange experiences between European countries. In Denmark, e-health and telemedicine is very much on the government health agenda, and while we have drawn inspiration from our fellow European health systems, we are also developing our own strategy.
Thus it must be examined whether e-health can help the healthcare sector, and if it is worth the effort it requires. We expect e-health to deliver better care at lower costs – but will this be the case at all times and for all purposes? In a sense, it is like a cake – it looks delicious, but we still have to ask what effort went into making it. e-Health appears to be an attractive solution to many of the challenges facing the healthcare sector, but when should it be applied, who will pay for it and how do we share it? Moreover, just as a cake needs ingredients and a recipe, e-health requires certain facets and methods. e-Health needs innovation, technology, new ways of working and more patient involvement, which must be combined with the work of different companies – both in the manufacturing and implementation of a telemedicine project – as patients have differing needs and illnesses.
Establishing an e-health sector cannot be accomplished with one stroke. It is wise to start with one thing, make it work in practice and then move on with what you've learned, taking with you key technological and organisational ingredients and experiences, so you do not have to start from scratch every time. e-Health will not reform the entire healthcare sector over night – but it will provide constant results and experiences for further use. If we succeed, we will have established an innovative sector that can improve the quality of healthcare and utilise resources in a better way.
In addition to this, being ready for telemedicine is not only a question of having suitable technology at your disposal; technological development should be accompanied by social and cultural readiness – and an appetite for e-health. One of the issues created by this is how we develop such a desire for telemedicine – and I believe that the answer is user involvement. As opposed to pills and medicines, e-health should not be developed in laboratories. The key to successful products and dissemination is user involvement in all phases of the innovation cycle: e-health is not a question of taking one pill instead of another; it is a question of doing things in new ways.
Through telemedicine, doctors and other healthcare professionals can monitor patients online, as individuals can examine themselves and report back electronically. However, creating an appetite for this kind of treatment requires certain attitudes to be adopted. Patients must see the point of this method of care, believing that it will help to make managing their conditions easier, while at the same time, feeling safe and secure. User involvement can help to achieve this.
We must empower patients to feel well equipped to overcome a severe occurrence, which illness often is, and we have to make the life of a patient living with a chronic disease easier. I believe that one way to do this is to strengthen innovation in healthcare and patient empowerment.
One aspect of the Danish e-health solution that will improve patient treatment is the so-called shared medication record. Denmark is at present deploying this, which once fully implemented, will give all health professionals treating a patient access to the same updated information regarding current medication.
Another e-health solution is a nationwide trial using telemedicine for ulcer treatment in diabetes patients. Using mobile phones and tablets, a nurse uploads pictures of the ulcers to a forum while they change a patient's bandage, to which the doctors, nurses and patient all have access. Thus, the doctors can asses whether the patient needs a house call, a trip to the hospital or if the ulcer is mending correctly at home. The trial has already been tried on a regional scale, which has revealed many advantages, for example:
• Shorter recovery time;
• Reduced transportation of fragile patients, including savings on patient transport;
• Less time spent with doctors at hospitals, who instead make short telemedicine consultations and basically only see patients with the most complex ulcers in the outpatient clinic;
• High patient satisfaction;
• Increased skills in the local nurse due to more direct cooperation with regional ulcer nurses and doctors.
Total cost reduction by using telemedicine and connecting data is estimated at 30 per cent. This amounts to approximately £30m in Denmark due to faster, more timely and better-quality treatment. I believe that this is worth the effort – for patients, clinical personal and the public economy. Thus in short, a wholesome recipe for a e-health and telemedicine strategy could look like this:
• Approach business case by business case;
• Acquire evidence: benefits and costs, obstacles and solutions;
• Create new tasks, and define new routines and structures for employees;
• Develop technical infrastructure and standards based on demands;
• Build skills, trust and enthusiasm among patients and employees;
• Remember that political push and pull for change is driven by data on effects.
All in all, this makes for smart investments in e-health and telemedicine. I welcome this new component to the healthcare sector with the hope that it brings us further in terms of sustainable health, and hopefully a better quality of life as well.This article originally appeared on Publicservice.co.uk: A picture of e-health