How can healthcare systems make mobile apps and healthcare wearables really work for patients?
Increasing costs, growing wait times for services and budget constraints plague public health care systems around the world—and our UK National Health Service (NHS) is no exception. With no end in sight to the problem, it has led me and many others to wonder how to further leverage technology to bring relief.
There are practical technology applications, already in existence today that could help alleviate the burden on the NHS. Right now, for example, the agency spends over 70% of its £110 Billion budget treating chronic diseases like diabetes and asthma. When you consider that 70% of hospital stays and 50% of all General Practitioner (GP) appointments are also consumed with long term illnesses like these, it makes sense to start leveraging technologies like mobile devices and wearables. These devices have the ability to empower patients with effective health monitoring tools that clearly have the potential to reduce office and hospital visits and improve quality of life.
Adoption of mobile and wearable devices is expanding, enabling people to better understand their own fitness level, track what they eat and monitor their heart rate. It makes intelligent sense to unify patient care with these available technologies to gain system efficiencies, while also improving health. Metrics like blood sugar and blood pressure can be self-monitored to alert patients about unhealthy dangers before they require medical intervention. This would further provide accurate information to GP’s so they can deliver better and more efficient care.
It would appear that health services organisations around the world would likely jump on these emerging technologies if they had the chance. But with the resulting increase in application data, comes higher volumes of clinical decisions and treatment pathways. That raises questions: who’s trained to address this? Won’t this create a whole new set of system bottlenecks? Do we need to hire more clinically trained people to review all this data? Not likely if technology is properly and productively applied.
Automated decision making can be an enormous help in this environment. With rules documenting clinical decisions and pathways established by trained professionals, good actionable information can be shared quickly to guide patients towards better health, without the need for clinical intervention or a visit to primary or secondary care. The key is to leverage a Decision Rules Engine to do this, so rules and pathway adjustments can be made with minimal development intervention as well as providing an audit trail of decisions taken based on patient data.
While we do need developers to code the initial application, keeping the automated rules process outside and apart from the code makes a lot of sense. It reduces over reliance on developers by allowing clinicians to develop the rules that assess patient data. Tools like Progress® Corticon® are already doing such assessments in healthcare settings, as well as in many situations where decision making is repetitive or sufficiently complex to warrant technological intervention. Corticon excels when multiple dependencies make manual decision making inefficient or burdensome—such as with our NHS.
Applying this process to the NHS would generate enormous savings and protect those savings by minimizing the need for an expansive clinical bureaucracy. This process also provides the agility needed to update rules and pathways in real time to keep them current, while empowering patients and improving their care.
Technology can provide new opportunities to improve how the NHS operates. We should certainly leverage it.
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