Do patients stand to benefit from innovation?

As we embark on a new year, I trust that you had a great holiday with family and friends. I expect that you are looking forward to this year with a positive outlook and enthusiasm for the value-based outcomes that we as an industry can have on healthcare in Canada.
So, do those positive impacts include improving the patient experience in some way? Certainly I hope that to be the case, so perhaps we should take a closer look at the patient and their changing needs. In order to do so, we need to agree that everyone is a patient of sorts; of course we all have very different wants and needs, depending upon our personal circumstances. With that in mind, let’s dive in.

For a number of us, the new year usually brings some new thinking to our life goals and the changes we envision that we need to make to live healthier and happier lives. The most common changes may be such things as more physical exercise, eating healthier, losing weight, spending more time with family, getting better sleep, drinking less alcohol and the list goes on. In many of these cases where change is the driving force, we will seek expertise to help us; a fitness trainer to teach us, a fitness class to motivate us, an eating plan from experts designed to improve our nutrition habits and so on. From a personal standpoint, we strive to increase the positive impacts on ourselves, and the positive impact we have on others. Now, from a professional standpoint, we also need to consider how are we impacting the lives of others with our technology solutions and our innovative thinking?

In the health IT arena, so often we are focused on data integration, data storage, data analysis, data migration and data viewing that we tend to overlook the impact our work has on patients: reducing wait times, enabling faster and more accurate diagnosis, involving the patient in their care and care planning, allowing focus on care for patients with critical needs, expanding the care team through information sharing, improving medication adherence, improving the use of key resources for care giving. And, of course, the list goes on. But is it enough? Are we moving fast enough to take advantage of the emerging technologies and the innovative thinking that is happening today? Most would say no to this question, and add that we have only begun to scratch the surface of the opportunities these new technologies will afford us. Perhaps we need to look further as to why this is the case.

Usually we look to fiscal restraint, governance and leadership, or resistance to change as the key reasons why we are not moving more quickly to adapt newer technologies and methodologies. Perhaps as a society we are distracted from the true benefits that can be realized for patients. As our population ages and the number of patients with multiple chronic diseases increases, are we simply getting overwhelmed and questioning whether our focus is on the right areas?

As we view the patients’ needs today and into the future, we need to consider expanding our analysis to include new data, such as social determinants of health and genomic data. These new perspectives may help to accelerate many of the initiatives underway today, while simultaneously disrupting and challenging the thought that we need to accomplish more in a shorter period of time. Genomics enables targeted screening, diagnosis and therapies, and can serve to help care providers break through many of the barriers that we face today. It may well push us to think more about healthcare and less about “sick care”.

Along with the continuing developments with wearable devices, mobile technologies, home based monitoring and the such, we should expect to see greater developments in robotic surgeries, and even the possibility that a person will be able to grow a replacement heart or lungs rather than waiting for a transplant. Challenging today’s many clinician-focused processes and procedures by sharing more information with patients – making healthcare a two-way experience – will enable us to look at healthcare with a fresh perspective. This will introduce a more engaged and demanding patient population that will become the norm or, dare we say, a necessary expectation that propels us to the next level of healthcare.

Remember the lessons that Uber taught us about disruption? Now consider genomics and how it can help reduce time and cost to diagnosis. Allocating the savings into other programs and interventions that help care providers and their patients coordinate and manage the social determinants of their health could revolutionize healthcare as we know it.

The business of healthcare is a very large business that employs over ten per cent of our entire workforce and is second only to the retail segment in Canada. We know as an industry that we can deliver value to the patient through our innovative technologies and capabilities. This brings us to the question: “Are we, as an industry, the true disrupter to the healthcare system in Canada?”