Patient Care

A remedy for the region

In healthcare settings across the world, the concept of excellence is undergoing a fundamental change, shifting to a model in which quality of care is no longer defined by clinical performance alone. Key now to determining, evaluating and ensuring best practice is the experience at the very heart of healthcare: the experience of the patient.

The scale of change is clear: almost half (45%) of US hospitals now report having a formal definition for patient experience as part of their care guidelines, and a recent study by Booz Allen Hamilton and Ipsos found that 32% of physicians are now working towards a patient-centered model of care.

With the shift in the US from fee-forservice to pay-for-performance, and therefore to quality rather than quantity of care, the incentives to provide a high-quality service are greater than ever – as are the penalties for failing to do so. Incentives under pay-for-performance are measured by patient outcomes (70%) and patient satisfaction (30%), demonstrating the direct impact that satisfaction can now have on a provider’s financial bottom line.

In the MENA region, patient experience is increasingly forming an integral part of service delivery strategies. Recognizing that clinical procedures are only a part of the bigger care picture, some of the leading providers have created their own Patient Experience Team, particularly since twothirds of interactions between patients and providers occur pre- and post-treatment, with hands-on treatment and time in hospital accounting only for a third.

While patient-centered care may appear to be a straightforward concept, its simplicity belies the diverse array of interactions that constitute a patient’s experience of the healthcare system. From basics such as access to information and interactions within the healthcare setting, to practicalities such as insurance cover and understanding bills, the healthcare journey is complex. Yet, patients will quickly form opinions on the care environment: Is my room clean? Are the facilities tired or state-of-the-art? Is the environment a quiet and calm one, or disorganized and chaotic?These are just a few of the many questions that feed into the patient experience, not just of care, but pre- and postcare too, with technology playing an increasingly important role in shaping that experience for the better.

New technology means care today is not delivered only in a clinical setting. At home, patients are now able to take advantage of a range of devices and apps to help them manage their health, and many will be familiar with the lifestyle end of the healthcare technology market, such as smartphone apps and fitness trackers. But, a new generation of healthcare-related products and services that provide robust medical interventions are beginning to make their mark, helping patients manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease in the comfort of their own home. Smart devices now mean vital information such as weight, blood pressure, physical activity, glucose levels and diet can be recorded on a daily basis by patients themselves, with the data relayed to healthcare workers for remote assessment.

Within the care setting, new technological solutions are modernizing and enhancing the patient experience. Integrated electronic records systems are enabling immediate access to patient notes, thereby improving communication, clinical safety and quality of care – efficiencies that benefit both staff and patients. Radio frequency identification (RFID) wristbands also enable healthcare providers to monitor waiting times and notify patients, while kiosks and mobile apps allow patients to schedule appointments, view and pay bills and even make food choices. Enhancing the patient experience further: entertainment options, from on-demand television to a range of gaming possibilities.

Technology is revolutionizing the posttreatment phase, too. New robotic surgery systems – able to carry out numerous procedures ranging from hysterectomies to heart bypass surgery – bring welcome advantages including faster patient recovery times and fewer post-operative complications. Back at home, advances in telehealth enable patients to remain connected to the healthcare system via smart devices, allowing their condition to be monitored, vital signs tracked and analysed, and inperson follow-up appointments scheduled if necessary.

As these pre-care, care and post-care developments attest, technology is destined to play a leading role in enabling a truly patient-centred culture of care, and steady growth in health informatics investment points to a desire amongst stakeholders to support the trend. Last year alone, healthcare providers in the Middle East spent over US$1.8 billion on integrating information technology with healthcare.

Technological tools
With investment in place, new technological tools will continue to facilitate a proactive approach to healthcare, shifting the care model from responding to a critical situation to instead employing longerterm, preventative measures. Already, trials of telemedicine have shown reductions of between 30% and 50% in re-admissions.

Stanford Medicine’s ClickWell Care program is demonstrating the possibilities of telehealth. Launched at the start of 2015, ClickWell Care enables patients to schedule appointments via an app, speak with doctors via telephone or video calls, and transmit data from their home health devices. The program has achieved 60% adoption from its available patient base, and a year after its launch has seen more than 4,000 visits across a panel of 2,000 patients.

Results like these, which demonstrate the ability of technology to elegantly tackle long-standing systemic issues, have led industry experts to predict that use of home smart health technologies will skyrocket over the coming decade. A recent report from marketing intelligence firm Tractica pointed to the potential for staggering growth, estimating that worldwide take-up will grow from 14.3 million users in 2014 to 78.5 million in 2020.

On a broader scale, digital health solutions are fast-tracking the Middle East’s ambitions to be a world leader in healthcare provision and innovation. At the same time, it is necessary to bear in mind certain factors that will allow the MENA region to reap the full benefits of a patient- centred, digitally-driven healthcare culture. Knowledge, training and commitment to change among healthcare professionals will be essential to ensuring a successful transition to the new model of care. Organizations will also need a fully functioning IT landscape, clear strategy and governance to implement the relevant degree of change.

Education and awareness among healthcare staff as well as a phased integration with existing services will ensure the transition is smooth and efficient. In a survey of Saudi Arabian healthcare providers, 71% said the main barrier to adopting telemedicine was a lack of knowledge of its meaning, applications and benefits, with 40% citing a lack of time to integrate it into their services. Over a fifth of the respondents said they did not perceive telemedicine as sufficiently important to warrant adopting it.

It is clear that new digital solutions and approaches have a central role to play, both in patients’ health and that of the care system itself, and can go a long way in easing the pressure on medical staff resources in the Middle East. They can also aid the system in dealing with the difficulties of finding, recruiting and, crucially, retaining, qualified medical staff. The benefits of new technology – increased productivity, improved clinical outcomes and a better patient experience – can bring great benefits in an environment where healthcare resources are limited. And while shifting to a new culture of technology-led, patientcentred care can be long and sometimes cause a short-term dip in productivity, it is important to keep in mind that the longterm benefits far outweigh the transition challenges.

A model that is more flexible, and provides responsive and proactive care can help healthcare providers in the Middle East successfully tackle the challenges of the coming decades, while at the same time containing costs and ensuring sustainable and robust systems for years to come. A fully integrated digital approach with foresight, conviction and a buy-in from all stakeholders and most importantly, with the patient at its centre, will enable providers to efficiently adapt to the changing dynamics of the healthcare industry.



 Date of upload: 13th Sep 2016


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