The simple fact of the matter is: People are living longer than ever before. Significant improvements in healthcare and living standards in the last century have resulted in vastly longer life expectancy for the UK population. Let me be clear, this is one of our greatest modern triumphs. On the flipside however, it presents unique challenges across a spectrum of social and economic factors, chief among them, with healthcare provision and spending. Our hospitals are full, and our patients are waiting too long for healthcare.
Sitting in the Swedish Education Session of HIMSS’ annual behemoth IT conference in Las Vegas last week, I was reminded of a humorous, tongue-in-cheek – if rather simplistic – statement made by an old friend and colleague about the key difference between US and European healthcare: In Europe, we try to keep people out of the hospitals, whereas in the US, we bring them in.
Sweden’s made some significant strides in telehealth over the past few years, the latest project being a full integration of Skype into Region Uppsala’s EMR system, allowing clinicians to conduct virtual consultations, or “e-visits” with their patients. I was heartened to hear about similar innovative telehealth projects like these across the ocean too (thereby invalidating the sentiment in my friend’s statement) upon listening to Dr Ari Melmed’s presentation on Kaiser Permanente Colorado’s ‘Chat with a Doctor’ project, which allows clinicians to chat to their patients via instant message. Similarly, connected health was very much the focus of Neil Evans’ presentation on the VA’s cross-border telehealth programme, and the introduction of text-based patient monitoring and care. The Mayo Clinic – always a reliable bastion for innovation in healthcare delivery – presented some fascinating insight on scaling telehealth across a multi-site health system, something that we will need to learn from as ACS’s gain more traction in the UK.
So what are we taking away? Will telehealth and telemedicine make healthcare better, safer, less expensive, more accessible and better value? From where I’m standing, I’d say yes.