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Technology innovation is a game changer in health care delivery

Contents

I Introduction
II Using wireless for patient monitoring
III Collaboration
IV The human factor
V New learning paradigms
VI Social Media
VII What next?

--submitted by Tom Closson, Ontario Hospital Association

I Introduction

Technology is changing the way patient care is being delivered and it has a profound, positive effect on the health care system. And, we are just on the frontier of what is possible.
Innovation in technology is key to the seamless collection, utilization and sharing of information, the cornerstone for health care planning and delivery. It can make health care safer, more accessible and less intrusive, reducing costs and improving outcomes. From collaboration tools that facilitate consultation between providers, to technologies that enable self-monitoring, innovation will drive a revolution of significant proportions.

Why the focus on technological innovation today? The answer is simple: without it, the health care system as we know it is simply not affordable, and we have a real opportunity now to make it stronger, better and more efficient.

We are entering an era where an elderly demographic will increasingly consume a vast majority of health care resources. In fact consumption of services is growing at a faster rate than the population, in large part because science is helping people with life-threatening or complex conditions to live longer. Complex chronic care facility Bridgepoint Health reports that on average, older patients in their care have eight to ten co-existing medical conditions and take more than a dozen different drugs.
Adding to the strain is the fact that the system is facing a significant human resource challenge as a large proportion of the workforce approaches retirement.

The contributors to the new technology landscape are diverse and the following is an overview of some of the key drivers that are influencing strategic health care planning, and the innovations that will play a role in ensuring the affordability of the system.b

II Using wireless for patient monitoring

With an increasing proportion of the population requiring regular monitoring for multiple conditions, health care providers are increasingly seeking out opportunities to keep non-critical patients out of acute care beds. Not only does this alleviate overcrowded conditions in busy facilities, but self-monitoring in a home environment, with the proper support, leads to faster recovery times, fewer complications, and a less stressful experience for patients.

Wireless technology developments are making it easy for even the most technologically challenged patients to record vital signs and submit updates without having to leave their homes. Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure cuffs, glucose monitors, heart monitors and weigh scales are taking the guesswork – and legwork – out of managing routine monitoring. Online content is also available to educate patients, while secure portal-based access provides an opportunity for them to “check in” with their physician without having to leave their homes or wait at a local clinic.

Wireless technology is also assisting home care workers to conduct assessments, update data, consult with physicians and  other clinicians, and research medication and treatment information. Handheld devices will quickly become a de facto standard in managing point-of-care services effectively.

III Collaboration

Health care is increasingly focused on taking a preventative rather than a reactive approach to care. In fact, Bridgepoint estimates that the cost of preventative care is equal to one-third the cost of sickness care.  An increasingly prevalent initiative in the health care community is the multi-disciplinary family health team model, in which doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, dieticians, and social workers collaborate to provide patients with the tools, education and information to live healthier lives.
Successful team processes demand a suite of enabling collaborative tools, including smartphones and tablets to share information, videoconferencing for “live” interactive sessions, and web-based teleconferencing to share information and discuss diagnoses and treatment plans.

An essential piece of the collaboration picture is the electronic integration of real-time data into shared health records. As the electronic health record evolves, the system can expect to see monumental changes. For example, the ability to instantly access up to the minute care planning updates or patient data, will dramatically reduce the time spent waiting for paper-based records to be delivered or calls to be returned, while improving accuracy and speeding up diagnosis.

IV The human factor

Technology innovation will become especially critical with the new Ontario Ministry standards that specify 80 percent single-bedded rooms – a standard that could potentially double walking time for time-strapped staff members. Under these circumstances, it is inevitable that facilities will have to rely on technologies such as handheld computers, communication devices, and interoperable equipment (e.g. smart bed technology) that can automatically record and transmit patient data such as heart rate, blood pressure and temperature into eHealth records; or voice recognition to manage functions such as lighting, bed positions and nursing stations.

Recent innovations in robotics are also being considered in hospital settings for performing routine tasks, while Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is being used increasingly to manage prescriptions so that the right patients receive the right medications at the right time.

Kiosks and self-help terminals in facility lobbies and emergency rooms are also being deployed to address a wide range of patient and/or visitor needs, from self-check-in or research, to drug dispensers, to post-treatment instructions and way finding.  

V New learning paradigms

The incredible progress in network performance is providing an unprecedented level of communication capabilities. Today’s networks are powerful enough to transmit a wealth of multimedia-rich data online, to enable simulations of intricate procedures or deliver interactive presentations with the world’s best educators and research and development professionals. The clarity and speed of images are even enabling futuristic innovations such as telesurgery and remote diagnostics.

With 1,200 sites and 2,000 videoconferencing studios, the Ontario Telemedicine Network is a sterling example of how far networks have come. It now ranks as the largest and most active telemedicine network in the world, and continues to expand its reach to remote communities throughout the province.

This two-way videoconferencing network not only provides patients with access to clinical services without the need to visit a health care provider in person, it is also an important avenue for delivering distance education and enabling meetings between health care professionals and partner organizations.

VI Social Media

While still in its infancy for us in the health care system, social media will gain traction as a cost-effective and efficient means to generate discussions, and access and analyze information. This arena promises to play an increasing role in promoting healthy lifestyle information to consumers, engaging communities in fund raising efforts, establishing discussion forums and disseminating public health information and alerts when needed.

Tools such as Twitter and Facebook that are considered the mainstay for consumer communications are increasingly being used by health organizations to notify constituents about public health issues, address complaints and mitigate the impact of potential outbreaks through timely access to information.

VII What next?

All of the technology innovations mentioned are in existence today.  However, the sector needs to ensure that the foundations are in place to fully leverage the opportunities. The time has come to invest effort into organizational innovation. That includes a commitment to knowledge transfer and integrated care; as well as transparency, accountability and the courage to enact policy and legislative change.

This is not an easy transition to make; but it is a necessary one. The good news is, the innovation needed to instigate this change is readily available and deployed in a number of key areas; and we now have the tangible results from these efforts to share best practices and build on that momentum.

The timing is ideal given that the challenges facing our health care system will only grow as demands increase and resources reach their limit. Stakeholders agree that applying innovation in all facets of operations, from the front line to the boardroom table, is the most effective way to alleviate the burden on the system and increase efficiencies, while supporting patients in their need to lead more productive, healthy lives.

Innovation is a central theme at HealthAchieve 2011, being held in Toronto on November 9, 10 and 11 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. For three days, executives and health care professionals from around the world will gather to discuss innovation, inspire ideas and share best practices as they envision the health care landscape for 2012 and beyond.

Featuring key notes speakers including Michael J. Fox, and Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, HealthAchieve 2011 is the forum for discussion on the future of the health care system in Canada. For more information or to register, visit http://www.healthachieve.com.