Tagged: communication technology


Cost-effective asset to relieve growing pressure on GPs

Can the escalating primary care crisis in England be helped with a new and innovative online dashboard, which automatically sends short videos contributed by clinicians to patients’ mobiles to address their FAQs?
Dr Seth Rankin, Managing Partner of the Wandsworth Medical Centre, and co-chair of Wandsworth CCG’s diabetes group, who has spearheaded the dashboard, thinks it can. Click on the photo below to view a short video that describes how health professionals can use the dashboard:
New and innovative dashboard
A 24/7 fully automated service that never wears out
We were motivated to do something about the increasing pressure on GPs, and the impact this has on the quality of our care. Patients may have to wait a couple of days for an appointment with a GP, but they can receive our videos within minutes of their request,” says Rankin. He continues: “A pilot study we carried out in two London primary care practices suggested that video is a patient’s preferred format if they can’t see a GP. Further, patients often don’t retain what you tell them in a 10-minute face-to-face consultation, and they tend not to read pamphlets, which also are expensive to produce. 53% of patients regularly search the Internet for healthcare information, but 81% can’t differentiate between good and bogus information. 72% prefer healthcare information from their GP, and like healthcare videos delivered directly to their mobiles. 70% want access to healthcare information at any time, from anywhere, on their mobiles.
“Unlike the Internet, our dashboard provides premium reliable information, which can be easily consumed and shared among family, friends and carers. Also, the videos can be viewed many times, from anywhere, and unlike pamphlets and doctors, they never get tired, never wear out, and are available 24/7, 365 days a year. The dashboard is fully automated [see figure below], relieves GPs of a lot of unnecessary work, and, importantly, reports on how our patients’ are using the different videos.”
Automated system that encourages engagement behaviours
Local experts
“We used local medical experts in our videos because we were keen to increase their connectivity with our patients. The videos provide 60 to 80 second talking-head answers to patients’ questions, and are designed to increase patients’ knowledge of their condition, propel them towards self-management, slow the onset of complications, and reduce face-time with GPs, while enhancing the quality of our care,” says Rankin.
He continues: “Although the dashboard easily can be used for any disease state, we started with T2DM as it represents our largest group of patients. Also, we know that: (i) T2DM is preventable with effective education that encourages diet and lifestyle changes, (ii) current diabetes education fails, and over the past decade, the incidence rate of the condition has increased by 65%, (iii) only 16% of the 120,000 people diagnosed each year with diabetes in England are offered structured educational courses, and (iv) only 2% of those offered courses actually enrol in them. So, we created our own bespoke dashboard and content library of about 120 videos, which we organised under 10 headings that we know interest our patients. Each heading has a cluster of ‘essential’ and ‘in-depth’ videos. We use the dashboard to relieve some of the pressure on our health professionals.”
Unprecedented crisis
Saturation point
A 2016 study published in The Lancet suggests that between 2007 and 2014 the workload in NHS general practice had increased by 16%, and that it is now reaching saturation point. According to Professor Richard Hobbs of Oxford University and lead author of the study, "For many years, doctors and nurses have reported increasing workloads, but for the first time, we are able to provide objective data that this is indeed the case . . . . . As currently delivered, the system [general practice in England] seems to be approaching saturation point . . . . . Current trends in population growth, low levels of recruitment and the demands of an ageing population with more complex needs will mean consultation rates will continue to rise.”
More than 1m patients visit GP every day
A 2014 Deloitte’s report commissioned by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) suggests that the GP crisis in England is the result of chronic under-funding and under-investment in primary care at a time when the demand for GP services is increasing as the population is ageing, and there is a higher prevalence of long term conditions and multi-morbidity.
According to the RCGP, over the past five years the number of annual GP consultations has increased by 60 million to around 370 million, while over the same period the number of GPs has grown by only 4.1%. More than one million patients a day visit their GP surgeries, with some GPs now routinely seeing between 40 to 60 patients daily.
GPs are extremely stressed
Deloitte’s findings are confirmed by a 2016 comparative study undertaken by the prestigious Washington DC-based Commonwealth Fund, which concludes that increasing workloads, bureaucracy and the shortest time with patients has led to 59% of NHS GPs finding their work either “extremely” or “very” stressful: significantly higher stress levels than in any other western nation. GP stress levels are likely to increase. In a speech made in June 2015, the UK’s Secretary of Health said, “Within 5 years we will be looking after a million more over-70s. The number of people with three or more long term conditions is set to increase by 50% to nearly three million by 2018. By 2020, nearly 100,000 more people will need to be cared for at home.” According to Dr Maureen Baker, chair of RCGP, “Rising patient demand, excessive bureaucracy, fewer resources, and a chronic shortage of GPs are resulting in worn-out doctors, some of whom are so fatigued that they can no longer guarantee to provide safe care to patients.”
Causes and consequences
GP exodus
Trainee GPs are dwindling and young GPs are moving abroad. According to data from the General Medical Council (GMC), between 2008 and 2014 an average of 2,852 certificates were issued annually to enable British doctors to work abroad. We now have a dangerous situation where there are hundreds of vacancies for GP trainees. Meanwhile, findings from a 2015 British Medical Association (BMA) poll of 15,560 GPs found that 34% of respondents plan to retire in the next five years because of high stress levels, unmanageable workloads, and too little time with patients.
Suggested solutions
5,000 more GPs by 2020
In the run up to the UK’s 2015 General Election the Secretary of Health pledged “to train and retain an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020” to ease the primary care crisis, but doctors’ leaders did not see this as a solution. Dr Maureen Baker said, "Even if we were to get an urgent influx of extra funding and more GPs, we could not turn around the situation [the GP crisis] overnight due to the length of time it takes to train a GP,” And Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA GPs’ committee, warned later that, “delivering 5,000 extra GPs in five years, when training a GP takes 10 years, was a practical impossibility that was never going to be achieved.” After the election the Health Secretary softened his promise and suggested that it would be ‘a maximum' of 5,000 by 2020.

In 2016, Pulse, a publication for GPs, suggested that the Health Secretary knows he cannot deliver his promise of 5,000 new doctors by 2020, and is negotiating with Apollo Hospitals, an Indian hospital chain, to bring 400 Indian GPs to England.
A more innovative approach

Better and smarter solutions needed
While searching for an immediate temporary solution to the GP crisis the Secretary of Health seems to understand that a more innovative approach is required for the medium to long term. In his June 2015 speech he said, “If we do not find better, smarter ways to help our growing elderly population remain healthy and independent, our hospitals will be overwhelmed – which is why we need effective, strong and expanding general practice more than ever before in the history of the NHS. Innovation in the workforce skill mix will be vital too in order to make sure GPs are supported in their work by other practitioners.”
Pharmacists in GP surgeries
In July 2015 the NHS launched a £15m pilot scheme, supported by the RCGP and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), to fund, recruit and employ clinical pharmacists in GP surgeries to provide patients with additional support for managing medications and better access to health checks.
Dr Maureen Baker said, “GPs are struggling to cope with unprecedented workloads and patients in some parts of the country are having to wait weeks for a GP appointment yet we have a ‘hidden army’ of highly trained pharmacists who could provide a solution”. Dr David Branford, former Chair of the RPS said, “It’s a win-win situation . . . .  We will be doing everything we can to support the GPs and make sure this pilot is successful. In time, I hope pharmacists will be working in every GP practice in the country.” Ash Soni, president of the RPS suggests that it makes sense for pharmacists to help relieve the pressure on GPs, and says, “Around 18m GP consultations every year are for minor ailments. Research has shown that minor aliment services provided by pharmacists can provide the same treatment results for patients, but at lower cost than at a GP surgery.”
Progressive and helpful move
The efficacy for an enhanced role of pharmacists in primary care has already been established in the US, where retail giants such as CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid have led the charge in providing convenient walk-in clinics staffed by pharmacists and nurse practitioners. Over time, Americans have grown to trust and value their relations with pharmacists, which has significantly increased adherence to medications, and provided GPs more time to devote to more complex cases. Non-adherence is costly, and can lead to increased visits to A&E, unnecessary complications, and sometimes death. According to a New England Healthcare Institute report, Thinking Beyond the Pillbox, failure to take medication correctly, costs the US healthcare system $300 billion annually, and results in 125,000 deaths every year. 
Introducing pharmacists into GP surgeries is a progressive and potentially helpful move forward, because, as Dr Maurine Baker suggests, “It is in everyone’s best interests to be seen by a GP who is not stressed or fraught and who can focus on giving their patients the time, attention and energy they need”. However, even more could be achieved if the dashboard described by Dr Seth Rankin were more widely introduced. “Videos play a similar role to practice-based pharmacists. Both deal with simple day-to-day patient questions, and relieve pressure on GPs, which allows them to focus their skills where they are most needed,” says Rankin.
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The Future of Healthcare
Fahad Aziz
Co-founder of Caremerge, which provides comprehensive web and mobile communications and care-coordination solutions for senior living communities. Fahad is the author of several technical papers, and the recipient of Pakistan’s prestigious Performance Excellence Award.
  • How will machine learning, virtual reality, the Human Genome Project, and the Internet of things change healthcare?
  • Will technology result in a healthier future full of empowered patients?
  • Will big data strategies help physicians perform their jobs better?
  • Will 3D printing be used to replace tissue and organs?
  • Will VR allow scientists to experience physical and psychological challenges rather than observe them?

Living in Silicon Valley I have a front row seat to the in technology poised to reshape the future of humanity. Machine learning, Virtual Reality, the Human Genome Project and the Internet of things will undoubtedly impact our lives in general, but they can also have a major impact on the Healthcare industry in particular.

To visualize the future of healthcare, I took a look at what’s trending in Silicon Valley and applied them to the healthcare industry. If the possibilities seem farfetched today, remember the iPhone is less than a decade old and has spawned countless industries that have shaped our daily existence, and will continue to do so. Technology moves fast and these four trends can potentially disrupt all aspects healthcare.

Machine learning
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not new to the technology world, but with machine learning, AI has taken on an open-ended form rife with endless opportunities for technology in general and healthcare in particular.

Machine learning enables computers to identify patterns and observe behaviors based on empirical data, and use all that to ‘learn’. In other words, machine learning is a set of self-learning algorithms that can eventually become smarter than any human being on this planet.

In 2012, Vinod Khosla, an American businessman and a co-founder of Sun Microsytems, predicted that in time, “Technology will replace 80% of what doctors do”; sparking outrage and umbrage within the healthcare industry. Physicians overlooked what Khosla was really saying: that big data, properly harnessed and utilized, had the potential to help physicians perform their jobs better. Farfetched at the time, big data and machine learning have come far enough in just four years to provide levity to Khasla’s argument.

When given access to a trillion gigabytes of patient data collected from devices, electronic health records (EHRs), laboratories, and DNA sequencing - alongside surrounding factors such as weather, geo-location, and viral outbursts - computers learn quickly, and they learn everything. The depth of information provided at such a scale suggests patients will not need to consult with various specialities to figure out what’s ailing them in the future. Instead, consolidated data will create and provide a fully coordinated treatment plan.

If you are thinking this sounds crazy, consider the fact that IBM acquired Truven Health for $2.6 Billion in early 2016. Truven delivers information, analytic tools, research, and services to the healthcare industry, and gives IBM access to data of some 200 million patients to feed Watson, which is IBM’s machine learning product that is a powerful question answering computer system capable of answering questions posed by natural language.

I can only imagine what Watson will offer after digesting this massive data, but one thing is for sure: the result is nothing but good news for patients and their care plans.

The Internet of things
Gartner, a US IT research and advisory firm, estimates six billion devices will be “connected” by 2020; collecting data for consumption, analytics and a whole lot more.

Healthcare has historically been a sucker for devices, embracing hardware that captures data, provides diagnostics and even treats patients. Previously, these devices have been in use only at hospitals and other healthcare locations, but in the future this technology has the potential to become a part of every single home; marking a new era in care.

How can the NHS innovate? - Mike Farrar, former NHS Confederation CEO

In the future, doctor’s visits will begin before we even head out the door. Our vitals will be captured at home and sent to our doctor. In some cases, we may even receive treatment in the comfort of our home. Further, once treatment begins, a real-time feed of our vitals and conditions will be shared and analyzed automatically via set protocols, which will trigger alerts if our health declines and requires a change in treatment.
The Internet of things has implications elsewhere for the healthcare industry. Pharmaceutical research could bid farewell to clinical trials once they can access millions of patients’ data to accurately analyze behaviors and outcomes.

Challenges facing immunizations could also be solved using simple, digitized solutions. Currently, vaccinations are rendered ineffective by temperature changes during their transport; a simple tracking device with a thermometer could solve that problem. Similar challenges with manufacturing, delivery and tracking of vaccination can also be digitized to make the immunization programs successful globally.

Last but not least, I foresee nano devices embedded within the human body to monitor glucose, blood pressure, temperature, and more; to allow for swifter, more effective decisions to be made so treatments can begin as soon as needed, significantly increasing positive outcomes.

The Human Genome Project
One of the greatest breakthroughs in healthcare this last decade was decoding the human genome to understand the DNA sequencing. It took over 10 years and a staggering US$2.7bn to crack the code of one human being. Just a decade later, it takes US$1,500 and a couple of hours to run the genome for any person.

The more we learn about DNA and its sequencing, the more accurately we can treat patients for their illnesses. There will be no guesswork involved, instead, a complete technical report will show exactly what went wrong since last time, and what can be done to fix it.

The future is closer than we think. I suspect human genome machines will be deployed at healthcare locations in the near term. The appetite for this type of information will grow, and eventually, we may live in an age where small genome devices are installed under your sink or inside your toilet seat to analyze changes in your DNA sequencing several times a day.

Today, researchers in Europe are using 3D printers and DNA sequencing to create human body parts that can potentially replace limbs or ailing organs. Prototypes already exist. DNA sequencing will help people take more control over their bodies, allowing them to make better informed decisions about their lifestyle, illnesses and treatments. This means that doctors’ roles will change, potentially allowing for a complete shift in the healthcare paradigm.

Virtual reality in healthcare
Mark Zuckerberg, chairman, CEO and co-founder of Facebook, takes every opportunity he can to promote his latest US$2bn acquisition, Oculus VR, an American virtual reality company, whose product, Oculus Rift, is a virtual reality (VR) headset. I had the opportunity to try Oculus Rift, and was blown away. Market analysts say Zuckerberg was crazy to bet on this, but I know he has discovered a platform with the potential to be larger than Facebook.

Virtual reality transports you into another world by creating an artificial environment, deceiving your sense of sight and touch, so your mind believes you are part of that environment. At a recent Aging2.0 conference, I watched a man in his 30s struggle to walk while wearing an Oculus Rift headset. A moment after putting it on he experienced the physical shortcomings of someone in there 80s. These types of experiences open up a new world for researchers by providing them with the ability to directly experience physical and psychological challenges rather than rely on observations.

Doctors' resistance to change - Devi Shetty,  founder of Narayana Hrudayala, Bangalore, India

The environment created by VR is artificial and programmed, at least for now. But fast forward three to four years, and you will likely be in a real environment. Consider this: a doctor could be transported to a hospital in Kenya while sitting in the relative comfort of his clinic in San Francisco. VR would allow the user to move around and interact with people enabling participation in treatments, research or even surgery.

I suspect Zuckerberg will combine social networking and virtual reality, allowing people from any part of the world to meet up with one another, to visit places they have previously only dreamed of, and go on adventures their body would never allow in the real world.

In healthcare, innovators are already leveraging VR for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism, social cognition, meditation, and help with exposure therapy and surgical training. And this is just the beginning.
The day is fast approaching when I will be able to virtually go to hospital to meet with doctors and specialists, share my vitals through various devices and a video camera to gain assessment and treatment plans from the comfort of my own home.

Healthcare information and management systems (HIMSS) have never disappointed me in terms of their participation and size, and I am hopeful that innovations will continue to shock, whispering promises of a healthier future full of empowered patients.

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The end of doctors 

  • A second technology revolution threatens the future of healthcare
  • Healthcare systems that ignore evolving technologies will collapse
  • Most healthcare systems are trapped by three basic failures
  • Doctors are the interpreters and not the processors of medical knowledge
  • Will a computer decide to turn off a life support machine?
  • Who owns the medical information on the Internet?

The role of doctors is about to change more than it has in the past two centuries, as the technology revolution enters a new era. 

Radical change 

This is the conclusion of Richard and Daniel Susskind in their book, The Future of Professions, published on 22nd October 2015 by Oxford University Press. They argue that, over the next 20 years, “the second future”, dominated by artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet, will drive radical changes in healthcare systems, which will involve the transformation of how medical knowledge is made available.

Today, computer systems can delve into vast amounts of patient data, identify trends and make more accurate predictions than doctors. Machines such as IBM’s Watson, which can attain high levels of intelligent behavior is already being used in medicine. In parallel, the Internet provides people with new and effective ways to build communities and share healthcare information. 

Never too big to collapse 

Some doctors argue that their activity will never change because it depends on deep expertise, creativity and strong interpersonal skills; none of which can be replaced by computer systems. Earlier, managers of global companies that dominated world markets made similar claims before there enterprises grew obsolete and collapsed.

Twenty years ago, the failure of global companies to meet transformational challenges resulted in 74% of them leaving the Fortune 500 as new technologies and innovations opened the way for agile start-ups and entrepreneurs. The list is long, but here are a few examples. Digital Equipment and Wang Laboratories, once leading computer firms, disappeared completely. Even resurgent giants such as Apple and IBM stared into the abyss of irrelevance, and made painful changes before clawing their way back to the top.

In the 1980s the advent of digital photography, software, file sharing, and third-party apps ended Eastman Kodak’s world market domination, during which time Kodak made breakthrough technologies, which included the Brownie camera in 1900, Kodachrome colour film, the handheld movie camera, and the easy-load Instamatic camera. Motorola, another global giant, that developed and built the world's first mobile phone, and dominated that market until 2003, failed to focus on smartphones that could handle email and other data; and as a consequence, rapidly lost share to newcomers such as Apple, LG, and Samsung.



Dr Devi Shetty, world-renowned heart surgeon, founder, philanthropist, and chairman of Narayana Health, India’s largest hospital group is viewed as the person who will have the biggest influence on 21st healthcare. Here he describes how information technology is set to radically change healthcare:

        (click on the image to play the video) 

Healthcare systems not immune

The Susskind’s agree with Shetty, and believe that healthcare systems, predicated upon antiquated patient-doctor technologies, face a similar demise to that of large companies that failed to adapt and change. The more successful healthcare systems will be those, that copy large companies who survived by collaborating with smaller, agile firms either as suppliers or partners. Rigid bureaucratic healthcare systems that find it more difficult to innovate will fail.

Three reasons for failure 

Failure to address three major challenges accounts for the failure of most healthcare systems. The first is the continued investments in failing antiquated systems, and the consequent failure to pursue fresher, more relevant ones. The second is psychological: healthcare systems and doctors fixate on what made them successful in the past, and fail to notice when something new is replacing it. The third challenge is strategic: healthcare systems that only focus on today, and fail to anticipate the future will fail.

Previous HealthPad Commentaries have illustrated these three failures by the billions spent on failing diabetes education programs over the past decade, while the incidence of the condition escalated. This is because diabetes education and awareness programs fixate on antiquated systems, and fail to embrace, smarter and more effective ones. See: Behavioral Science provides the key to reducing diabetes

The concentration of medical expertise

A doctor’s raison d'être is to provide solutions to problems that people do not have sufficient specialist knowledge themselves to solve. Previously doctors were the ‘processors’ of medical knowledge, but with medical information becoming ubiquitous, increasingly doctors are becoming the ‘interpreters’ of medical knowledge. Doctors are gateways to specialist medical information.

In most healthcare systems, doctors are a huge and increasing expense, a large proportion of them use antiquated methods, and the expertise of the best doctors is only enjoyed by a few. This is changing by technological innovators finding ways to make medical expertise more widely available. Also, technology is enabling clinical expertise to be broken down into smaller tasks, which can be better achieved with a machine; telemedicine is just one example.

Who owns medical knowledge?

Online healthcare information empowers patients and threatens doctors by providing people with medical knowledge that previously resided in the minds of doctors. Such knowledge, which can help to diagnose illnesses, is free, increasingly common, and controlled by users. An important unresolved question is, who owns this medical knowledge?


Doctors exist to provide solutions to medical problems. If technology provides better more reliable solutions, the need for doctors dissolves. However, the most convincing objection for the displacement of doctors is an ethical one. Is it morally wrong to leave the decision to turn off a life support machine to another machine?

The debate is just beginning. 

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6 years, 5 months ago

Was the UK Department of Health (DH) right to axe its telehealth project?

Telehealth is a combination of medical devices and communication technology used to monitor diseases and symptoms, and support health and social care remotely. It represents a solution to the challenges of rising healthcare costs, an aging population, and the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases.

The Whole Systems Demonstrator Project
The DH’s Whole Systems Demonstrator (WSD) project was an ill-conceived top-down endeavour doomed to fail. It cost £31m, and was the world’s largest randomised control trial of telehealth involving 7,000 patients, 240 primary care practices across three UK sites.

In 2011 an interim evaluation concluded that the WSD project could achieve a 45% reduction in mortality rates, a 15% drop in A&E visits, a 14% reduction in bed-days, and an 8% reduction in tariff costs.

These estimates are in line with international findings. Based on a review of some 2,000 studies, GlobalMed concludes that telehealth has reduced hospital re-admissions by 83%, decreased home nursing visits by 66%, and lowered overall costs by more than 30%. Nothing else has worked to reduce such costs.

It was projected that by 2017 three million people in England with long term conditions would be recording their medical data and vital signs remotely, and sending them, via email and text, directly to GPs. This could save the NHS £1.2 billion a year, and significantly enhance the quality of patient care.

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