Since new technologies have removed many information gaps, individuals are now becoming co-designers of their health and partners in disease prevention. However, the authentic shift from the "one-size-fits-all" approach to patient-oriented services requires a few core components: connected healthcare infrastructure, digital health literacy, and the empowerment of patients to make informed health-related decisions.
Digital health solutions give patients new powers. Telemedicine consultation apps shorten the physical distance between doctors and patients and shorten the waiting time for appointments, diagnosis or medications. Health tracking platforms look at conditions over time and provide individualized information for better health choices. Electronic health records merge single data into one information flow. The twisted journey in the healthcare system is getting smoother for both the patient and the doctor thanks to technology. Patients equipped with a smartphone, loaded with health apps, and with wearables are becoming a point-of-care and a partner for physicians.
"Patients are no longer dependent on opening hours or location. Care-related services are available online, in a flexible and personalized form," says Jussi Määttä. The CEO & Founder of Buddy Healthcare, a mobile care coordination and patient engagement platform, points out that by having all of the relevant data to hand, individuals get a better understanding and big picture of the full care process. They already feel safer by having the possibility to get in touch with professionals when it's necessary. "Our app significantly improves patient experience or – as one of the patients said – it relieves tension and uncertainty around the process of surgery," concludes Jussi Määttä.
In the past, the biggest enemy of patient engagement had always been the rigid structures of healthcare, in which both individuals and doctors were reduced to very narrow roles: care-receivers and care-givers. It was challenging to find authentic connections between them.
Digital health technologies are bringing back what has been forgotten: the patient is sometimes the best expert regarding their own health. It's the patient-doctor relationship that determines the patient outcomes in treatment and disease prevention. Patients want doctors to be their partners and mentors. Besides, every individual lives in a different environment and community that influences their health needs. Patients' stories, and not just their medical data, matter.
Using smart digital technologies, we can include these significant nuances to make care even more patient-oriented. Patients need expertise and mentoring from their doctors. In fact, it's not easy for the healthcare system to cover the personalized needs of millions of patients. In the opinion of Theodore Sergiou – an 18-years old patient, mental health activist, and brain tumor survivor – this is also the case in the National Health Service NHS of England.
"Ever since initiatives to incorporate diverse, individual patient representatives at varying levels began, the NHS has been moving away from Standardizing the Individual towards Individualizing the Standard. However, despite patient representatives being necessary for mobilizing this reformation, their role in the administration is not sufficient to achieve personalized care for the masses. Hopefully, it remains instinctive for us all to acknowledge that the more support practitioners receive to reduce the demand and strain, the more rigor can be granted towards understanding the needs and objectives of each patient that walks through the door. Advanced medical care requires intensive study into each individual, in addition to accomplished medical proficiency," says Theodore Sergiou.
He also points out that with the expansion of technology, communication between doctor and patient is becoming easier and more inclusive, allowing to build strong relationships, track progress, receive feedback, educate individuals on their own conditions. Individuals are becoming more engaged and comfortable to co-devise their healthcare.
Care provided directly where the patient lives and works, tailored to their individual needs and designed to provide an uninterrupted stream of services would be ideal. In order to create such an optimal ecosystem, we need the right strategies, tools, and individuals that know exactly how to navigate the digital health world. Only trusted innovations designed with, not just for patients, have a chance of convincing their users. They should naturally adapt to every patient, not the other way around. Such excellence in digital services already exists in many industries. It's also possible in healthcare. The need to build new patient-centric, digitally-supported care delivery models is becoming urgent, along with the broader socio economic or morbidity challenges arising in 21st century healthcare.
Guillem Serra, Co-founder & CEO of mediQuo, highlights the fact that healthcare must keep pace with societal changes. "Today, patients are less and less willing to wait several weeks for a medical appointment or to waste time traveling to a health provider if they don't have to. This process seems archaic to some of them. The patient expects professional, immediate help." Guillem and his team have developed a mobile app that connects patients with medical professionals. And it's far more than just an online consultation app. "A doctor can provide continuous care and patient follow-up. We have observed that the users of our app interact with doctors more frequently compared with traditional visits," says the CEO of mediQuo. Patients quickly accept digital communication as soon as they see how it anticipates their needs. Doctors track the evolution of the patient's condition; hence they can keep an eye on the patient continuously, not only during a short, single visit.
The common goal of such digital solutions is to improve the quality of care and patient outcomes, but also to enhance prevention. We have to take into consideration the fact that some patients still prefer a face-to-face visit. For others, online services remove both physical and psychological barriers. This concerns those patients who are seeking a better experience as well as vulnerable groups, for example, people with disabilities, citizens who need to talk to the doctor when they feel worried about some symptoms, individuals that are ashamed or afraid to go to the doctor.
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Updated August 10, 2020