James Norman of EMC argues how integrating patient data across different systems is integral to future healthcare delivery
In this article, James Norman, UK public sector chief information officer at EMC, focuses on the rise of lifestyle illnesses and how these can be prevented if we start to focus more on integrating patient data across different systems – GP, private clinic, and hospitals
Europeans must do more to stay fit and healthy. This has been the clear message coming from governments and healthcare professionals across Europe over the past few months and years. In fact, the issue was back in the headlines just recently with doctors now giving advice that exercising outdoors can have greater benefits on reducing obesity than if you trained inside.
We are fast running out of the hospital resources required to adequately care for the increasing numbers of patients in need of long-term care, and we simply do not have the money required to keep scaling up our healthcare networks
While choosing whether to live a healthy lifestyle or not is largely a private matter, governments and healthcare professionals across Europe have been compelled to pro-actively try to improve the choices we make. The reason for this is obvious: the cost of providing healthcare services to an increasingly-unhealthy population is simply not sustainable.
The rise of lifestyle illnesses is changing the structure of the European healthcare system by creating an imbalance between supply and demand. We are fast running out of the hospital resources required to adequately care for the increasing numbers of patients in need of long-term care, and we simply do not have the money required to keep scaling up our healthcare networks. The World Bank has estimated that public expenditure on healthcare in the EU could increase to a whopping 14% of GDP by 2014.
It is a message of austerity that is now familiar to European ears: we must do more with less.
In achieving this goal, we believe that healthcare organisations, at a national and regional level, must co-operate to deliver fully-integrated care to the patient.
Integrated healthcare is a structural shift that expands the centre of gravity of the healthcare system beyond the hospital borders. Care will become more distributed, with the burden shared by a wider variety of health providers – GPs, physiotherapists, pharmacists, home carers, family members, private health clinics, gyms, food nutritionists - the list goes on. The patient is at the centre of this web and it is the patient’s information that binds it together.
At present, information siloes are acting as a barrier to integrated healthcare as the information the various healthcare stakeholders need on the patient cannot flow freely
As well as being much more time and cost-effective, this approach also benefits the patient as they can receive a much greater proportion of their care at home or at other care facilities within their communities, making convalescence much more comfortable and convenient for them.
Such a system does, however, require a level of technological innovation. At present, information siloes are acting as a barrier to integrated healthcare as the information the various healthcare stakeholders need on the patient cannot flow freely. If, for example, a specialist requires information from the general practitioner, it can take days or weeks to get it in a format that can be accepted by the specialist’s IT systems.
These need to be broken down by decoupling patient data from the various records that hold said data: electronic medical record, electronic health record, and departmental applications, for example. This decoupling will mean that different systems and software from different locations can easily get the patient information they need at a given time.
In fact, we would argue that to fully meet the challenges presented by lifestyle illnesses, complete integration of patient data is fundamental on many levels: within the hospitals, between hospitals and among other actors in the system, such as GP, private clinics and life science organisations.
This should also, of course, include the increasing amount of patient health data being collected by an ever-more-diverse array of wearable devices – everything from smartphone fitness apps to medical home monitoring devices. Integrating such useful health information requires a system such as we have described; capable of standardising information from a variety of data formats and sizes. This approach has the potential to deliver huge results when it comes to solving the problem of lifestyle illnesses.
In fact, we would argue that to fully meet the challenges presented by lifestyle illnesses, complete integration of patient data is fundamental on many levels: within the hospitals, between hospitals and among other actors in the system
For example, such wearable devices empower the patient to make the right decisions when it comes to their health, using gamification and social media platforms to, for instance, reward someone for eating healthily or going for a run. This patient empowerment will play an increasingly-important role in making people live healthier lifestyles and will also create additional data for healthcare practitioners to make better-informed decisions on behalf of their patients.
Lifestyle illnesses are not going to go away anytime soon, but we at least have a way of adapting to the stresses they place on the health service. For us, the free and secure flow of patient data will prove critical – not just in reducing cost and easing the strain on hospitals, but also in improving patient outcomes.