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Consumerisation, the next big trend in healthcare?

Published 08 January 2014

IBM's Andy Collett explains how healthcare is following other customer-focused industries in thinking about people rather than patients, involving and interacting with them before, during and after care


Since the NHS was formed in 1948, the focus has been on providing treatment, not prevention and at a time and place that suited the provider rather than the patient. Perhaps most important is that much less effort has been expended in actively engaging with the general public. All of us would like to avoid becoming patients and want a greater degree of involvement when we do.

Every NHS policy and strategy document today declares that the patient is at the centre of the service and there is no doubt that professionals work tirelessly to provide compassionate care. However, the systems in place are still designed around organisational processes rather than the needs of the individual.

There are lessons healthcare can take from customer-focused industries such as retail, leisure and travel. For example, consider the experience when you book a holiday. Tour operators maintain an ongoing rela-tionship, and they keep in touch with special offers and information about new destinations; you are able to make your booking at any time, through a variety of channels. While away, information about your destina-tion is provided to your phone. On your return, feedback is sought by a variety of providers and you may even be invited to join a Facebook group to keep in touch with new friends. This level of interaction should be the aim of our care providers.

Let's start by thinking about people not patients - involve and interact with them before, during and after care. Know who they are, understand their needs and help them stay well; offer a seamless experience when they need to move into a care setting; understand their preferences so that options are provided and help them stay in touch after the episode to avoid a repeat visit.

Health engagements generally should be at a time and place of the patient's choosing. Increased patient involvement avoids care episodes and increases self-management of conditions. For example Kaiser Per-manente's 'My Health Manager' application makes the patient a member of their care team. On average par-ticipants sign-in to the portal 21 times a year and although it has not reduced visits to primary care, it has reduced A&E and in-patient care episodes. Nine out of ten patients with a chronic condition were able to self-manage more effectively.

However in the UK, Department of Health figures show that 20% of patients reported that they were not given enough information on their condition or treatment while in hospital and nearly half felt they were insuf-ficiently involved in decisions about their care. Only 13% of the UK population are engaged in their own 'wellness', significantly below the European average of 25%. The Department of Health estimates that £3 - £5 billion could be saved by the NHS reaching the European figure.

There are also lessons we can take from the retail industry. Consumers are now likely to mix Internet re-search, conducted from home, with visits to stores - accessing further information whilst there. Products can be delivered to a store, home, work or even to your local station. Consider how this might look in Healthcare: You should expect help to understand the huge volume of data being made available about you - your condition and treatment options. You ought to be able to seamlessly move from face-to-face to mobile interactions; and each time, should not only be remembered, but so should your preferences. The advice and information you receive should be tailored to you.

A 2009 study by IBM considered the viability of moving from a treatment based care system to one fo-cused on the person and prevention. One US model investigated, which could be adapted to the UK, is the 'Patient-Centred Medical Home' which emphasises the central role of teamwork and engagement by those receiving care. The paper identifies the improvements achieved in Community Care of North Carolina when a proactive approach was adopted. In addition to savings of $160m, an asthma programme reduced hospital admission rates by 40 percent and a diabetes programme improved quality of care by 15 percent.

There are some practical steps to create a vision for this journey. The first is to bring together the stake-holders: clinicians, management, carers and of course the patients. The output should be a visualisation of the pathway from the individual's point of view, highlighting the organisational interfaces and the changes needed to develop a proactive care system with an engaged consumer at the centre. Technology can help this vision become a reality.

Andy Collett is Healthcare Business Development Executive at IBM UK - @andyhealthcare

Please visit the Government Computing/IBM healthcare zone to learn how digital hospitals provide for faster and safer throughput of patients, creating more capacity through efficiencies while containing costs.

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