Patients acting as consumers, demanding more ease, better tools

Patients are driving a new shift in health care, with expectations for greater access to personalised, convenient services growing.
By Leontina Postelnicu
07:30 am

Fast, efficient technology has become the norm this century. It’s no surprise that consumers have high expectations when it comes to ease, but, while e-commerce and banking continue to make strides, for some, healthcare technology is often the stodgy counterpart.

Just take comments from a recently-published evaluation of the three-month NHS App pilot in England, where patients expressed their frustrations with the two-factor authentication method used to log onto the platform (now replaced with biometric login).

“The text verification every time is annoying. Could a passcode or fingerprint like banking apps use work?” one patient’s feedback said.

Those watching the digital transformation of healthcare will be familiar with this comparison. Banking is often used as a successful example of digital ease and convenience, and many question why it has taken so long to reach this field.

But that could now be changing, as patients, acting as consumers, start pushing for greater access, at the click of a button, and more control over their care. The pace of technological progress, seen in the slew of innovations available on the market, is enabling them to do that, yet, it is clear that this unmet need for access to easy and convenient digital services continues to grow.

“There’s no logical explanation as to why this shouldn’t happen, there’s every reason why individuals should actually get more control over their health and care,” Dr Charles Alessi, chief clinical officer of HIMSS, tells MobiHealthNews.

“The reality is that health systems aren’t particularly helpful when it comes to giving people permission to get control over their health and care, but of course it will happen, and it has to happen, because consumers are taking control of the process. However, it’s still kicking and screaming at the moment,” he says.

Prevention, simplicity and access to data

Aron Anderson, one of Sweden’s most popular inspirational speakers and an ambassador for the Swedish Childhood Cancer Foundation, for which he has raised millions, believes wearables play an essential role in enabling people to manage their health and wellbeing.

When Anderson was only seven years old, doctors discovered a tumour “the size of an apple” growing in his lower back, and he was diagnosed with cancer. He received his first chemotherapy treatment on his eighth birthday, and later underwent a surgery to remove the cancer, after which a wheelchair became part of his life.

He turned to sport to regain control, years later climbing the highest mountain in Sweden, Kebnekaise, the Kilimanjaro, skiing across Antarctica, and biking from Malmö to Paris. His story has become an inspiration for people around the world, and this June, he will be speaking at the HIMSS & Health 2.0 European Conference in Helsinki, calling for a bigger focus on prevention, from the system, and on simplicity, from developers of digital health tools.

“From all of the things that I talk about today, I think wearables are so important,” Anderson tells MobiHealthNews. “We need to ask, can I track my own data for better care, potentially share that with my doctor, show my perspective? That’s one step that we need to take in the future, help patients collect their own data, and use that to really improve their care.

“I’ve heard many examples from people that they do not sometimes have enough mental strength going through their disease to fight the system, especially if you have a disease that’s harder to diagnose, and you know that something is wrong with your body, but nobody is listening to you. Maybe if you could collect more data and have those data points to say, something is wrong with me, take me seriously, I think that would be a really big thing for patients.”

One innovation the Swedish adventurer says he likes at the moment is the Oura ring. The Finnish wearable uses heart rate, motion and temperature sensors to track sleep, and even Prince Harry was spotted wearing it last year. The startup behind it, based in Oulu, introduced the product on Kickstarter in 2015 and ended up raising around $650,000 to support the development of the product, and $5.3m the next year (investors were not disclosed).

“I don’t think about it when I’m wearing it, and I can collect really good, insightful data from it,” Anderson says. “I think that will be the future of wearables, they will have to be so small that you don’t think about them when wearing them and that they’re simple to use.

“I tried a lot of different things, and what I’ve seen with myself is that, if it’s too complicated to use, I can fool myself and think, okay, I’m going to use it, it’s so cool, but eventually I will stop because it’s too complicated, it takes too much time. Simplicity is key,” he adds.

Looking to the future

But with stretched budgets, a high chronic disease burden, an ageing population, workforce shortages, and increasing concerns around the privacy and security of data, how and when will this translate into reality then, how will systems have to adapt, and what will it mean for both citizens and healthcare professionals?

“As a clinician, I would feel that I have a responsibility if you were sending me your wearable data 24 hours a day,” Dr Alessi says. “But how can I do that with a lot of people? It’s the governance around it which worries me, because we don’t have this level of system to manage this data coming into a primary care system, or even a secondary care system.

“The systems just don’t exist, and with any wearable or passive information or anything like this, the governance around the use of data will need to be very well managed. But it has to happen,” the chief clinical officer concludes.

The HIMSS Health 2.0 European conference will take place in Helsinki, Finland from 11-13 June. MobiHealthNews is a HIMSS Media publication


Consumerization of Healthcare

In April, we'll look at the consumerization of healthcare from a variety of angles, including how to treat patients as customers.


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