Telehealth technology has a massive potential to improve health outcomes and reduce costs. In order to realise those benefits, technology has to be translated into services that are embraced by healthcare providers, patients and their families. Healthcare providers must change the way they operate, while patients have to make the effort to learn and adapt. Oftentimes, simple off-the-shelf technology delivers more value than brand new technology does.
Technology offers huge opportunities to improve primary healthcare. It enables people to live independently for longer, supports patients with chronic diseases and improves the social life of people living with health risks. The challenge is how organisations capitalise on technology to deliver better services.
Telehealth technology trials show promising results in terms of reduced mortality rates, lower emergency admissions and fewer hospital bed days. However, it is also clear that cost savings are hard to realise, unless organisations are prepared for large-scale changes. Deploying technology but neglecting service design inevitably leads to costly waste of resources.
Telehealth technology has a massive potential to reduce healthcare costs. Evidence shows that remote services significantly reduce pressure on the healthcare system, while improving the quality of both care and the life of patients.
Services can only scale up when people are prepared to adapt and work differently. Professionals and staff need to be trained in data analysis and the application of new procedures. Healthcare teams need to establish new decision-making processes, and management teams need to enforce new governance structures.
In short, technology is a small part of the picture. Services first need to be designed around the needs of organisations, patients and staff. Only then can technology deliver value.
Adapt to useful technology
Patients and carers are surprisingly willing to take on new technology, as long as it offers clear benefits. In a pilot project Livework ran with patients suffering from dementia, we found that social media could be very useful. Short updates throughout the day helped bond families together, solve practical day-to-day issues and provide a sense of security and togetherness. Therefore, if the technology is useful, people make the effort to learn to use it.
Simple can be great
The words “health” and “IT” are always associated with infinitely complex systems and massive budgets. However, even simple off-the-shelf technology can enable hugely valuable services, and they are likely easy to be adopted. Examples include messaging apps that connect patients, families and doctors to help people stick to the treatment. Video calls can make isolated and immobile elderly people feel less lonely, while TV can be a useful channel to provide information patients and their families need. Incorporating proven technology into services is likely more successful than bringing in new technology.
Validate in real-world settings
Service concepts must be based on clear and observable patient needs, and validated in real-life settings on the organisational level. After that, technology is more able to unleash massive savings, and lead to a better quality of life.