Future-proofing the Irish healthcare system

30 May 2017

Ger Brennan, managing director, MSD Human Health. Image: MSD

Ger Brennan from MSD Human Health offers his vision for a digitised Irish healthcare system.

Life Sciences Week 2017

Imagine an Irish healthcare system where technology and innovation have been sufficiently unlocked to allow for real healthcare delivery transformation. Where telemedicine responds to today’s health and social demands in real time. Where complex patient journeys within a hospital are immediately updated on touchscreens, making decision-making more efficient. Where the amount of time patients have to set foot in a hospital is minimised, and wait-times dramatically reduced. And where capacity to care is tackled through a wide range of care environments in the community.

Future Human

While this might sound like a utopian, virtual otherworld, the reality is that there are many countries around the world preparing to tackle changing demographics and the increasing incidence of chronic diseases, by forging ahead on providing new forms of care and more streamlined patient pathways. Embracing the benefits and efficiencies of e-health is central to this strategy. We, as stakeholders in Irish health, need to adapt, fast.

‘74pc of survey respondents said the public should have online access to their own health records’

Inspirefest 2017

The general public’s view is that technology will be front and centre in the delivery of Irish healthcare in the future. A recent report carried out by Ipsos MRBI and commissioned by MSD, revealed the Irish public’s willingness – and, indeed, positive demand – for greater use of digital technology in healthcare provision in Ireland, to ‘disrupt’ and address existing healthcare challenges.

Hopes and expectations

The report was designed to allow members of the public to voice their hopes and expectations of the Irish health service of the future in an open and honest manner, and showed broad agreement among respondents on the need for the increased use of information technology, with 80pc agreeing that it is important for technology to be used wherever possible to make healthcare better. Survey participants recognised that technology can greatly enhance the healthcare user experience, and reduce inefficiencies and burdens for the end user at key points in the patient journey.

While adoption of technology is broadly considered to be a generational issue, it’s noteworthy that respondents aged 55 and over place greater importance on embracing technology than their younger counterparts. The internet, after all, has been around for a generation now, and it’s the older cohort that may be interacting regularly with the health service, connecting the challenges in the system with the advances in technology benefiting their everyday lives.

Despite some concerns expressed regarding data protection, interestingly, Ipsos MRBI found that there was overwhelming support for the concept of electronic health (e-health) records. In particular, 84pc of respondents expressed the belief that GPs and hospitals should have online access to patient records and that there should be a single digital view of those records throughout the health system. About 74pc went further, saying the public should have online access to their own health records.

Tech for the user’s sake

Creating solutions that allow patients to better manage their disease and be empowered with access to their information and healthcare professional support through secure networks can only help to tackle capacity issues in hospitals.

The key call-out from the Irish public, however, is not to introduce new technologies to the Irish health system simply for technology’s sake. Disruptive technology and digital upgrades should not only increase efficiencies and free up the healthcare system to tackle other issues, but it should also improve the patient journey and the quality and effectiveness of patient care, thus reducing pressure on services while also improving patient experiences and allowing them to get better sooner.

‘We’re only getting a taste of the possibilities these remarkable advancements are having on patient care and wellbeing’

Online appointment management is a very simple yet effective tool to enhance the healthcare user experience, allowing a patient go online to see when their out-patient appointment is scheduled, and cancel or reschedule it if necessary. We have seen examples of other countries where such systems have been introduced, resulting in dramatic reductions in no-shows and greatly improved efficiency in out-patient departments.

Patient interaction with technology is already having a dramatic impact on the cycle of care. Increasingly, we’re seeing the growth of patient apps allowing the patient to keep a diary of how they are feeling, the medications they are taking and their responses to them. These are connected to a portal, which alerts a nurse or a GP to the fact that the patient needs to either attend a clinic or take some other action.

But, in reality, we’re only getting a taste of the possibilities these remarkable advancements are having on patient care and wellbeing.

Joined-up thinking

For us to truly advance, embracing technology needs to be combined with some old-fashioned stakeholder collaboration and joined-up thinking. Public-private partnerships can help to leverage the many current breakthroughs and deliver these new technologies and applications.

At MSD, for example, we have been working with health service partners and other stakeholders on a number of digital initiatives that aim to put the patient first, while delivering both value and savings to the healthcare system. Increasing focus on this, aligned with a clear plan for adopting the most effective technology, will be necessary to take full advantage of the impending e-health revolution.

The question, ‘What will Ireland’s health system look like in 2027?’, was posed recently to a panel of key opinion-leaders from across the healthcare continuum at the Future Health Summit. Ensuring that the patient benefit remains at the heart of every technological advancement will go a long way to ensuring a future-proofed health service that’s fit for purpose.

By Ger Brennan

Ger Brennan is managing director of MSD Human Health.