In an environment where there is increasing competition and a greater demand for value, it’s pressuring healthcare practitioners and organisations to find new and more effective ways to improve care delivery. This includes making their services more accessible and cost-effective by enabling patient-practitioner connectivity “anytime and anywhere.” As a result, practitioners and healthcare providers need to find ways to:
- Facilitate communication between them and their patients,
- Engage patients, and
- Support prevention and management of chronic care outside traditional settings.
Connected health (cHealth) is a term that describes technology-enabled integrated care delivery that allows for remote communication, diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring. cHealth is also known as technology-enabled care (TEC) that collectively involve telehealth, mobile health, digital health and eHealth services. cHealth solutions include applications (apps), smart devices (wearable and non-wearable), aggregation platforms, and analytics that enable patients and practitioners to access data and information more easily and improve the quality of care and health outcomes.
An important goal of an effective, patient-centred cHealth approach is to improve digital connectivity between practitioners and patients to allow individuals to access the care they need, anytime and anywhere. It also has the potential to provide cost-effective solutions, which is particularly important in these COVID times when the demands on healthcare services continue to increase Australia. Outside of COVID, these demands are due to a growing and ageing population, the rising costs of advanced medical treatments, and constrained healthcare budgets. cHealth strategies also have the potential to improve health outcomes, patient satisfaction, and long-term patient engagement. If we want a future sustainable healthcare system, wide scale adoption of TEC will be essential.
If practitioners and clinics truly want to create a patient-centric care system, they will require the tools to support the entire care journey, not just intermittent visits to the clinic or doctor’s office. The current healthcare system is fragmented and poorly coordinated in some ways. But, in the world of connected health, the combination of sensors, networks, standards, augmented intelligence, and consumer behaviour are creating opportunities to impact and improve the patient journey. The key objectives of cHealth include:
- Improve digital connectivity among patients, practitioners, health insurers, hospitals and clinics.
- Facilitate self-managed care, with the help of technology-enabled solutions, in a secure environment that protects consumer privacy.
- Deliver care outside the traditional clinical setting, potentially providing better access to care at a lower cost.
- Assist chronic care management and improve population health outcomes.
Some practitioners and health providers are concerned that the adoption and use of technology-enabled solutions loses sight of the importance of the patient and practitioner relationship. The way to make sure the relationship remains intimate is to make sure the technology is usable and easily integrated into both of their lives. Technology and data collection are only one part of a cHealth strategy — the human element and the trust will develop with regular use and engagement. Transparency, connectedness, and the ability for patients to feel like they are better at understanding their own health and being able to manage it, is the way that cHealth strategies extend the reach of the health care system. An example might be making appointment and health transactions easier. Many patients prefer to manage tasks such as booking appointments and filling prescriptions on their own. These types of cHealth services can enhance the patient experience and may improve system efficiency.
Another example of how cHealth strategies can improve patient health outcomes is technology-enabled solutions allowing for remote patient monitoring (RPM). RPM technologies enable patient monitoring outside of conventional clinical settings. RPM uses digital technologies to collect health data from an individual in one location and digitally transmit that information securely and in real-time to a health system in a different location.
RPM has the potential to improve patients’ satisfaction with care, reinforce adherence to treatment protocols and plans set by their practitioner and help them track and monitor their health, including signs and symptoms that may trigger the need for follow up care. Through telehealth, patients have access to real-time, synchronous expert care which not only improves patient access to care, but also enhances their experience, the care delivery and, ultimately, health outcomes.
There will always be barriers or new challenges that test the adoption of cHealth. These include data integration challenges, privacy and security concerns, and provider resistance to adopt new business models. However, consumer demand and expectations, and the public and private sectors’ rapid uptake of value-based care initiatives are changing the landscape for cHealth. Therefore, practitioners and healthcare organisations should consider the potential of cHealth savings and targeted strategies for the patients who may benefit most.