By Susheela Venkataraman
Essential to countries such as India is an integrated health system, which addresses both the response and preventive aspects of health
In many parts of the world access to healthcare is denied to large groups of people for several reasons including physical, financial and social causes. While on the one hand the global population of youth is increasing, so is the number of the elderly, creating new dimensions to the kind of health issues faced. As people migrate to urban areas the pressure on urban systems increases. Overcrowding often leads to infections and incidence of new diseases. New ways of working and living also give rise to new forms of illnesses.
All of the above increase the need for better healthcare delivery even as countries face a shortage of clinicians, healthcare workers and infrastructure, when required and where required. Outdated and outmoded healthcare systems are still prent, posing a severe challenge to governments and communities. Better health outcomes call for addressing several other related issues such as water, sanitation, nutrition, pollution, awareness, education, occupation and economic well-being.
As care becomes more complex, it requires a specialised workforce to deliver services often across geographically dispersed areas. This means healthcare managers need to communicate and collaborate in better ways without increasing costs or reducing the effectiveness of human interaction. While advances in research, treatment, and processes have strengthened the healthcare system, accessing them requires interaction between multiple sites. This creates new challenges and increases pressure to improve operational efficiency. Therefore the medical fraternity requires constant updating of skills, learning and education, which is in sync with changing technology.
The health ecosystem as it exists today, is immensely complex encompassing primary, secondary and tertiary care providers, suppliers of drugs and other products, social workers, patients and their families, not for profit organisations, insurance agencies and the government. Unless this ecosystem works in close synchrony, the health needs of the society and various communities cannot be met.
High quality communication is critical
Poor communication among various healthcare workers impacts productivity and patient safety. It also has cost implications. Problems in communication stem from the fact that healthcare industry still clings to outdated methods of communication. Reasons why communication fails also include necessary personnel not being identified, located or not available to respond in a timely manner.
Many types of communications take place among clinicians, and between clinicians and patients. Technology can be applied to facilitate all these communications in a highly collaborative and mobile environment. While collaboration as a way of working is not new to the health system, it is becoming more of an imperative as the priorities of the industry and customers change. Better efficiencies and effectiveness could be achieved through closer collaboration within the ecosystem.
Integrated health system
Essential to countries such as India is an integrated health system, which addresses both the response and preventive aspects of health. A good response system must allow for early detection of health conditions. It must also provide high quality infrastructure, focused on those in need, for the identification of a disease trend and containment of infection. The system must enable rapid dissemination of information, provide for emergency response and empower patients and their families to take charge.
A preventive system meanwhile must allow detection and diagnosis besides providing information to create awareness. Empowerment of such systems is required along with the availability of other support systems such as vaccines, drugs and rehabilitation therapy for containment of infection, through community action. An integrated health system must also ensure skills refresh for clinical staff and health workers, while addressing their issues related to geographical spread. Clearly, high-quality data is central. Focus must shift to stitching together all the information residing in several silos, to help people interact and work together closely. The availability of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure and tools makes it easy for such collaboration to become a reality.
Technology can be applied to facilitate all these communications in a highly collaborative and mobile environment
Today, a ‘connected’ approach is required to be applied to the healthcare sector as organisations align technology and operational needs to support and streamline information flows. With increasing emphasis being placed on prevention and health, there will have to be a radical change in processes so as to optimise delivery of services, reduce medical errors and control spending. These processes must be centered on patients, who play an active role in deciding the most appropriate course of treatment for them.
Ongoing education will have to be an integral part of the agenda for the medical workforce. Healthcare organisations will need an integrated network to help various departments to collaborate, learn and communicate effectively.
Across the globe, governments and healthcare systems have initiated broad healthcare improvement programmes, which require a secure, reliable, and increasingly interactive infrastructure to automate transactions and expedite the flow of healthcare data. This paves the way for a future in which all healthcare stakeholders can respond to patients more efficiently, expand preventive healthcare initiatives, and boost the overall health of communities. Several technology solutions exist for the many mechanisms that may be used to deliver collaborative care. However, the ability to combine or integrate all of them in a manner that is relevant to the specific situation and issues to be addressed, would determine their successful adoption.