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Information seen as main future health issue

A forum headed by WPP has highlighted 'information proliferation' as the main issue in the future of healthcare in the EU

The single biggest issue shaping the future landscape of European healthcare is the increased quantity and accessibility of information available to the public, according to a recent gathering of some of the industry's leading figures.

'Information proliferation' – a term which encompasses the abundance of guidelines, discussions, opinions and suggestions from a wide, uncontrolled variety of sources, available at all times in a variety of methods – has already made its mark on politics and journalism, with the rise of bloggers as influencers and the controversies surrounding Wikileaks.

Its impact on healthcare was the topic of discussion among a panel of stakeholders, including healthcare professionals and representatives from agencies, consultancy firms and pharma companies, at the Tate Modern, London.

The day was the second in a series of meetings curated by WPP communications services group member, Hill & Knowlton, in partnership with Kantar Health, Sudler & Hennessey, Mindshare and PME, to discuss attitudes towards the most pressing matters across healthcare from all stakeholder perspectives to plan topics and actions for a larger conference in spring 2011.

This conference, intended to run annually until 2013, would act as 'a new platform for healthcare vision and ideas,' according to Nick May, head of healthcare EMEA at Hill & Knowlton.


Nick May - Hill & Knowlton
Nick May, head of healthcare EMEA at Hill & Knowlton


"Healthcare is changing so rapidly and profoundly in lots of different areas in all countries, and there is not a single player out there that demonstrates an understanding of where it's going to go," said May.

"The next thing we knew was that we didn't know the answer either, so the aim was to imagine a forum where the key challenges and areas of change that people can grasp are pulled apart and examined and people can develop ideas, both sensible and whacky, about what the new model or new consequence might be."

This advisory meeting's topic was determined by a previous discussion in June 2010, which concluded that the largest factor in future healthcare issues was what some have termed an 'explosion' of information, over other suggestions including money and the 'necessity' of change.

The Tate meeting aimed to further the thoughts behind this concept via a series of presentations and smaller group discussions.

All attendees highlighted the importance of behaviour change in the public, with individuals becoming empowered to make efforts and decisions regarding their own health.

To some, this meant healthcare in the future was about patients as consumers, with the necessity of fulfilling consumer demands influencing other areas in the industry to re-assess and develop their own roles to focus on the newly empowered informed patient.

Further small group discussions, each focusing on one of five key stakeholder groups – patients, payers, HCPs, government and pharma companies – also brought up this point from the clinician perspective.

With online information increasingly prominent as a patient's first route to guidelines and opinion about health concerns, GPs face becoming a 'second-tier' healthcare provider. Further concerns were also raised about the loss of individualism in primary contact, with Dr John Haughney from the University of Aberdeen commenting on the need to recognise the different wants of each patient: "For years, healthcare organisations and charities have produced standard leaflets on a subject, and it's sometimes hard to get them to marry up with an individual patient's needs. We can expand that production to larger electronic multinational programmes, but the same fundamentals are going to apply: how do we personalise any information that we are giving?"

To personalise information effectively though, the source had to be both knowledgable and creditable. In all sessions, however, the most pressing matter in information proliferation was that it was 'in the wild'. In other words, it was produced and consumed with little regulation or control, leading to patients receiving hugely variable guidance on how to lead a healthy lifestyle or deal with a condition or disease.

Power shift
As affirmed by the company's attendance as a speaker, it is now a Google algorithm, not someone's local GP or nurse, that is becoming the main controller of what healthcare information influences an individual.

The negative for all stakeholders is, as suggested by one group, that information is not wisdom.

Context and knowledge are needed to make informed, effective decisions about treatment or lifestyle and these can only be provided with a combined effort from all involved parties to tame the information that is out there and offer a trustworthy, reliable, usable, engaging way to shape healthcare in a way that is best for patients.

The purpose of this meeting though was to help pinpoint the problems that needed solving rather than offer confirmed solutions.

Sudler & Hennessey's Sarah Dawson said: "Today helped boil down the issues and gave a clearer view of what the proliferation is and its consequences."

With this focus to create ideas around the issue of proliferation though, some delegates urged the content and discussions contained in these events not to forget other drivers in the future of healthcare, and the ultimate aim of the industry.

"We still need to realise this concept is all about how to improve outcomes for all patients," said Richard Evans, Bristol-Myers Squibb, "and we can't lose sight of the fact that not everyone has access all the time."

The overall reaction to the day was positive though, with attendees sharing suggestions and specific innovations. Increased investment in palliative care, increased activity in public health and direct communication with the patient were all seen as positive moves in the right direction.

Jeremy Trinidad of Novartis said: "It was useful to hear ideas coming from more than one institution and the beginning of good outcomes emerging from that."

These outcomes should be seen at the larger conference later in the year, with discussion to focus on the development of plausible ideas that can influence health in an age of unprecedented access and information.

17th January 2011


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