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The balance of power in healthcare

Meeting patient needs and keeping pace with technological advances
The balance of technological power

So much of what we do is oriented to healthcare professionals, it leaves me a little worried about just how good many patients' experiences are when it comes to taking, understanding and adhering to their medications.

This year's ThinkDigital event, entitled Customers in Control, was dedicated to really focusing on how the balance of power around healthcare decisions has moved from being entirely the domain of the healthcare professional to a dialogue (most of the time) between the professional, the patient and sometimes the carer.

This shift is remarkable. For patients 30 years ago anything beyond Disprin or paracetamol was really an unpronounceable drug name with little context for the consumer beyond its role as a treatment for some sort of illness. The message was very much: take the pills as prescribed and come back in two weeks if you haven't experienced any improvement. This shift towards a more empowered patient has really only happened with the advent of the Internet and the world wide web. Today we are the midst of a revolution - a revolution that gives patients a powerful voice in their treatment and the choices that are available. But are we prepared as an industry for what this revolution means?

A time of great change

ThinkDigital 14 featured speakers from across the stakeholder spectrum delivering their point of view on the changes taking place.

Ali Parsa, CEO of digital healthcare service babylon, talked about four unstoppable trends (see box) that are driving the future frontier of healthcare - and which give us reasons to be optimistic about the future of healthcare.

Four unstoppable trends driving the future frontier of healthcare

  1. Diagnostics are improving at double the rate of Moore's Law
  2. Information is already free and getting smarter
  3. The 'internet of everything' is coming to the medical space
  4. Intervention will make history

First among these is diagnostic costs for things like sequencing your entire genome. Not only have these plummeted in the last decade - and they look set to continue falling - but the very nature of diagnostics is moving towards something that is with us all the time. Devices such as those being developed by companies like Scanadu function as always-on scanners and send your health data seamlessly to your mobile so that you don't even have to think about it.

Parsa said: “For the first time in human history we can do with your body what we are already doing with your car, which is continuously checking the engine before moving off and knowing ahead of time when something is going wrong with us.”

If diagnostic costs are rapidly falling, the cost of healthcare information - Parsa's second trend - is already in most cases at zero. Almost anybody can access the sum of our entire medical knowledge on his computer at any time. The way this information can be searched is becoming smarter too and patients - from Bangalore to Boston - have access to a new generation of search engines and symptom checkers.

Mobile technology, already increasing at a formidable pace, is coming to connect the world through devices that are becoming more and more intelligent. From smart watches to fitness trackers and beyond, the 'internet of everything' of intelligent connected devices takes 'mobile' to a whole new level. When it comes to these and other wearable - even embeddable - sensors, the internet of everything has huge potential in health.

Within mainstream medicine too this is a time of huge advances. Name-checking biostructural engineering, electrical biology and new laser treatments, Parsa's final trend is the incredible developments occurring within the world of clinical intervention.

He believes that these four unstoppable trends are coming together to create a prefect storm that will see the creative destruction of medicine within the next decade. The result will be a service that is utterly more accessible, effective and democratic.

“Everything that was solid in medicine is melting into thin air, and out of it is coming a future that none of us have even begun to imagine,” he told ThinkDigital.

Your personal healthcare access tool
The event's speakers also included Nick Pestell, agency partner, global marketing solutions, Facebook, who talked about mobility as a behaviour not a technology. Put simply, it's not about the device - it's about acknowledging where customers are.

Why is this important in healthcare? Because your mobile is your personal healthcare access tool. It can be used to speak to your physician, check your vitals, track your activity (without really having to try), monitor and diary your eating habits - the opportunities are endless. In fact, you can imagine a time very soon when you will take a pill and your mobile device will record it, without you having to do anything.

Customers are driving much of the demand for mHealth technologies and applications. Mobile apps are helping to improve overall consumer engagement in healthcare by simplifying access to, and the flow of, information. This, in turn, is lowering healthcare costs through better decision-making, fewer in-person visits and greater adherence to treatment plans - and it also improves satisfaction with the service experience.

Insight into healthcare consumer behaviour and attitudes is critical information in an environment where healthcare is moving rapidly towards patient-centred care where individuals are active participants in managing in their own healthcare.

This avalanche of new applications, mobile devices, bio-sensors, and biological and imaging technologies, wearable and soon embeddable technology, is making it possible to virtually track any of the body's bio-signals in real time, and if we wish, transmit them for continuous analysis.

For the first time in history, people will have the 'check engine' capability that, as Parsa says, we are accustomed to in our cars but never had for our bodies, leading to the possibility of real preventative medicine.

Pharma's imperative to be more patient-centric

Healthcare has an economic imperative to become more patient-centric and ubiquitous - with delivery wherever the patient happens to be. Healthcare costs are becoming unsustainable, in large part due to an epidemic of chronic diseases fuelled by unhealthy lifestyles, ageing populations and increasing standards of living.

To bring costs under control and improve health outcomes, patients and other stakeholders in the healthcare system are now active in changing patient behaviour. To enable these behavioural changes, the epicentre of the healthcare system is shifting from the two places in which healthcare has traditionally been produced, delivered, consumed and paid for - the hospital and the doctor's office - to a third place: the patient.

This shift is accelerating as changing incentives are transferring more financial risk to providers - who will need to change patient behaviours to manage this risk.

Patients have grown increasingly comfortable with empowering technologies (eg, smartphone apps, sensors, monitors and social media) and are taking a more active role in managing their health. They are demanding a different healthcare delivery model that will reach them wherever they happen to be.

Above all, the third place promises to change the game in health care by making costs more sustainable and providing new opportunities for growth and value creation. This is a pivotal time for healthcare brands to listen and then act by harnessing the vast power of digital media and technology.

Article by
June Dawson

is managing director at Digitas Health LifeBrands Global

25th November 2014

From: Marketing, Healthcare

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