The Future of Healthcare is a debate that can inflame the imagination. There is so much to be done, so much to be achieved in so little time! A topic about which everyone has an opinion also generates unlimited ideas. Ideas worth spreading. And spread TEDx did! In Maastricht, Netherlands, earlier this week on April 4th, 2011, TEDx had a gallery of thought-leaders who presented cutting edge ideas and work in all things healthcare.
Death – the greatest truth according to Hindu mythology – is a phenomenon that man fights endlessly in a mindless pursuit of immortality. He labors on in pain, in suffering and even when faced with debilitating diseases such as cancer. Yet, like David deBronkart, said, “when we fight cancer, we think we’re fighting death when in fact, we’re fighting life itself!”Dave deBronkart, known on the Internet as ePatientDave, is a cancer survivor himself. At the TEDx forum, his voice shook as he recounted his war against kidney cancer and how he lived threw the harrowing experience to be able to see his daughter get married. Although he “faced the grave”, Dave said he took it upon himself to search for information that was relevant to his medical condition. “Where does my body end and the problem start?” he asked himself, as he spent endless hours poring over raw data and information from all the resources he commanded. Finally, the effort paid off. As he learnt more about his medical condition, he worked harder with his doctor to create a treatment regimen that he knew he would follow down to the last detail. The result: Victory against cancer! His war cry: “Let patients help!” The story of deBronkart and many others captures the evolving relationship between the healthcare professional and the patient in the coming years. A relationship that promises to radically shake up delivery of healthcare as we know it.
It all begins with increasing access to information. When he knows so much, a patient is more likely to participate more actively than he presently does. Instead of being a passive object of treatment, he will begin to ask to stand on an equal footing with his doctor to develop care routines for his own health. Co-creation of value comes full circle in healthcare! According to neurologist Bas Bloem , healthcare professionals must accept this trend and descend from their ivory towers. The doctor can no longer pose as an omniscient god, but rather become a guide who works with and coaches the patient. This would be a great departure from the state of healthcare today where doctors and patients stand on different platforms – a phenomenon brilliantly depicted by Dr. Bloem in a skit at the TEDx. Ingenuity of such high order made TEDx Maastricht very special!
The future of healthcare is increasingly about patient empowerment. So much so that Frans Hiddema, CEO of the Rotterdam Eye Hospital, who also spoke at the TEDx calls the patient the least utilized resource in healthcare. “Its his body and therefore, his problem. Therefore its his choice”, he points out. And yet healthcare professionals work as if the patient doesn’t matter. Patients don’t ask much of their doctors too. They are either overawed or too scared to do so. “There is no need for you to be scared of your doctor” says Hiddema. According to him, scared patients run a higher risk of something going wrong. The less afraid, the more satisfied people are. This is an evidence-based result. And how do you overcome fear? Through knowledge. Through information. Information that is made accessible through technology such as the Internet that can be accessed conveniently through hand-held devices. Why is it important to know? Because knowledge empowers. In all things healthcare, patient empowerment is the trend and information technology is the enabler.
So, is it all as much a bed of roses as it sounds? Well almost! Something that constantly keeps payers (health insurance companies, employers etc.) up at night is the cost of healthcare. An empowered patient can create a steep rise in costs. “The more you know, the more is the need for treatment. And how would you deny the best treatment to a patient who asks for it?” asked Wouter Bous, a former Dutch politician who now works with KPMG. Healthcare costs rise partly due to the “undeniability” of technological advancement to patients. The more we know of ourselves, the more treatment we want. This creates potentially endless demand for treatment and thus high costs. Yet, the trick is to get doctors and hospitals to focus on giving it to those who “need it the most” and not just to those “who pay for it the most”.
The challenge is daunting. How do healthcare providers offer the best services en masse and still keep costs under control? There is potential for innovation here. What if you reduced the number of people who actually fell sick and needed healthcare services? The answer could lie in making healthcare:
- Predictive – forewarn people of susceptibility to diseases
- Preventative – empower them with information and resources to take preventive measures and to keep themselves healthy
- Personalized – provide information that is most relevant to them and what they want to know instead of generic and unimaginative information (n=1, R=G)
- Participative – make people a part of decisions made about their health. After all, its their lives. Enable them and trust them to hold themselves accountable
Hold on! Before you dismiss this off as idealistic, its good to remember that governments across the world work to ensure that people stay healthy. This, of course, does not mean that people won’t fall sick and never need a doctor or a hospital at all. But studies have shown that healthcare costs reduce dramatically when the overall population stays healthy. This is true empowerment. Empowering people with appropriate intervention to remain healthy. After all, health is not what we take care of when we fall ill. It is something we take of not to fall ill.