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Vol 20, No. 06, June 2016   |   Issue PDF view/purchase
Technology Can Help Patients Find Doctors and Share Medical Data
by Shashank ND, Founder & CEO, Practo

The healthcare industry has proven to be one of the most resistant among verticals to adopting technology as far as discovery and delivery of healthcare services is concerned. In the last ten years, there had been no significant change in the way people experienced healthcare, despite that science around developing drugs had gotten better, and there were more hospitals and clinics being built. For the majority of people around the world, access to quality healthcare remains a problem, and affordability is becoming a new issue even in the more developed economies with soaring healthcare costs, a result of a confluence of factors: lack of transparency, standardisation, automation, and process efficiencies.

And even for those who do not have these issues, the overall healthcare experience is still poor. It’s not uncommon to hear patients complain about a lack of information about healthcare providers, not knowing the best specialist to turn to for their ailments, or having no reliable way to schedule an appointment, leading to countless hours of waiting. Even when they finally do visit the doctor best qualified to treat them, storing healthcare records can be another challenge, let alone keeping them in a way that generates actionable insights for the patients. These are all signs of a long-standing challenge in healthcare – the industry is not centred around the patient.

In recent years, together with the growth of Internet and smartphone users, more information is becoming readily available at people’s fingertips. While patients now have an overflow of healthcare information to tinker with, this digital revolution also leads to more consumers adopting a habit of self-medication and diagnosis. This phenomenon is very worrying as patients are constantly bombarded with cluttered or sometimes inaccurate health information, distracting them from the end goal of consulting the right doctor and receiving treatment. They also lack the professional know-how to come to an accurate conclusion of their illnesses, often leading to over- or under-diagnosis, exacerbating their condition.

Building a bridge between doctors and patients using technology

In the hopes of turning the situation around, governments worldwide have been playing a more active role in ramping up quality healthcare. In Singapore, the budget allocated to improving healthcare has increased six-fold in ten years, to $11 billion dollars this year, encouraging hospitals to seek technology and robotics for better productivity and carving out time for higher-value services such as consultation and treating patients. In United States, Obamacare has laid down clauses that penalise hospitals that repeatedly re-admit patients, and curb the sum to be charged for certain conditions, putting hospitals under pressure to innovate to improve patient care.

Not only that, as technology starts to permeate healthcare, things are starting to change rapidly for the better. Innovation enabled by technology is making it increasingly easier to find the right doctors, book instant appointments, and reduce wait times for the patients. Many companies are also enabling creation and sharing of digital healthcare records by doctors, so patients can have all their healthcare data with them at all times, breaking data out of the silos it had been stored in traditionally.

Below are some of the areas technology could play a huge part in:

  • Provide transparency of information and real-time visibility

    Patients often have limited access to the right information and knowledge about options available to them. An effective healthcare search application should be able to provide them with healthcare providers most suited to them. Time-saving functions on the application would also allow for clearer visibility on a doctor’s schedule, and make the process of scheduling appointments an ease. This would provide nurses and administrative staff with real-time updates on appointments and potentially reduce no-show rates drastically, forming an efficient digital healthcare ecosystem.

    The future of health is real-time and not episodic. Real-time information is necessary as it provides consumers with real-time data of their health. This enables them to then take proactive measures to prevent health issues. Real-time data also identifies signs of a budding disease so, once detected, patients could see a doctor early without any delays to their treatment. This way, cost of healthcare could also be driven down quite significantly.

  • Personalise the healthcare experience

    Recognising the need for accurate diagnosis and treatment should also be a priority for those in the healthcare industry. Unfortunately, healthcare records are still being traditionally stored on paper in a doctor’s office away from the patients, therefore existing in a silo. These information and records put together can provide medical professionals complete visibility into one’s healthcare history, and if accessible on a digital and integrated platform, not only allow for accurate diagnosis, but also personalise the consumer’s experience with the individualised treatment methods. The point is not to burden the patient with documentation and duplication. Digital personalised healthcare experiences must be designed to be easy and somewhat “fun” to follow.

    By offering a personalised digital healthcare experience, we can increase a patients’ ownership of their health and outcomes. Often it seems that patients feel they have no control over their treatments, when actually the opposite is true. When they feel like active participants in their health journeys, it is more likely they will achieve the outcomes they desire.

  • Deliver a seamless healthcare experience

    Today, despite many countries in Asia taking steps towards an integrated record transition, they have failed to take into account the masses who have shown a propensity to travel frequently across countries for treatments and various healthcare services. For example, Singapore, known for its high-quality care and advanced treatment methods, is a hot spot for medical tourists. Integrated solutions allows healthcare professionals access and visibility to these invaluable records regardless of country, and provides patients with a seamless healthcare experience whether at home or miles away.

    Digital communication is the next innovation chapter that will redefine healthcare, this means getting the right content to the right person at the right time to inspire behavioural change and participation, which is something physicians can look to do on digital platforms. For instance, a patient who is suffering from respiratory ailment could receive emails or messages on how to smoke less, sent by his/her doctor after a visit is complete.

    In summary, technology is making a new range of services available to the healthcare industry, which can subsequently offer to patients, making their life easier and better. Medical professionals should be passionate about changing lives using the power of data, technology, and communication — enabling everyone to find the right doctor, the right hospital, the right care at a time, location, and touchpoint of their choice. The access to new technology provides these professionals in the healthcare industry the opportunity to take advantage of such information mobility. Doctors and patients alike should utilise new technology systems and embrace modern approaches to healthcare. Ultimately, the priority lies in providing the best quality of healthcare to as many people as possible.

    About the Author

    Shashank is responsible for the overall vision and direction of Practo while maintaining an active role in building Practo’s game changing products.

    He started Practo in 2008 when he discovered that there was a profound need to transform the healthcare industry and centre it around the patient – he calls this approach ‘Patient First’ and this is one of the guiding lights for all decisions at Practo.

    He puts Practo on a mission to help improve human health and longevity and visualises a patient friendly healthcare ecosystem enabled by Practo where patients and doctors are seamlessly connected with a secure and easy flow of health information. He wants Practo to be “Your health app”. The only app you need for any healthcare related activity.

    Over the past several years, he has built Practo into a company that touches millions of lives in multiple cities and countries every month, by helping them make better healthcare decisions.

    Shashank has a B.Tech from the prestigious NIT, Surathkal and is a founder circle member of iSPIRT, a think tank for the Indian software industry. Shashank has recently been featured in the ‘30 under 30’ list of young influential people to watch by Forbes in 2015.

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