By further enhancing digital engagement with patients, some hope it will be possible for healthcare to become as responsive as other digital-first sectors
While the pandemic may have generally accelerated healthcare’s digital engagement with patients, Mary Lou Ackerman argues there is still further to go.
“If I want to travel somewhere, I do a few clicks and I know where I’m going, when, and how much it’s going to cost. If I want to buy something, I can do it within 45 seconds and it’s at the door tomorrow.
“But if I’ve got a funny mole on my skin or I’ve got a question about my health, I need to call the doctor for an appointment which could be weeks away. It’s just not fast enough. Healthcare lags so far behind other industries that already offer efficient and effective self-service.
At SE Health, a Canadian-based social enterprise, a digital first strategy is not a new idea. “We’ve been there for years,” says Ms Ackerman, the organisation’s vice president of innovation and digital health. But the development of technology, and increase in the number of other organisations sharing a similar vision, is presenting new opportunities.
That’s included putting voice technology such as Amazon Alexa devices into the homes of frail older people who are living alone. The device is automatically set to ask about wellbeing each day – with data shared with nurses, allowing a rapid intervention when there is any cause for concern – and to offer reminders about, for instance, taking pills or planned social engagements. Ms Ackerman says such solutions “drive innovation in service delivery models, allowing care to be delivered ‘just in time’.”
It’s also included working with Orion Health on plans to introduce a “digital front door” across a Canadian province. The platform will bring together a range of patient engagement technologies, including a symptom checker.
An artificial intelligence aspect, meanwhile, will analyse levels of need and patients outcomes. In this way, the hope is to support better decision making about what services are needed and when.
The approach is one about which Ms Ackerman in enthusiastic. “A digital first strategy saves clinicians’ and patients’ time, gets them information they need when they need it, and involves them using that information to further enhance future service offerings,” she argues.
“At a health system level, digitising all of that data and using artificial intelligence to get to predictive analytics is really exciting. As we digitise more and more of the health system, we’re going to be able to deliver smarter, more personalised healthcare. We will be able to focus on what really matters to people versus what’s the matter with people.”
Improving services through greater digital engagement with patients
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Making healthcare a digital self-service sector