This World Patient Safety Day on September 17 focuses on the theme of engaging patients in the regulation, governance, design and delivery of patient care. The idea is that by involving patients — and their families and caregivers who play a crucial role in the safe delivery of healthcare — as partners in the process, that patients will benefit from greater confidence and better outcomes.
It is an interesting area of focus and is supported by evidence. In a recent article, research was cited highlighting that more engaged patients tend to have better outcomes and that one study found that patients in engagement programmes increase prescription refills by 36 per cent while reducing overall medical costs by 45 per cent.
Healthcare providers are responding to patient engagement needs and the opportunities for technology innovation by investing more. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region leads the Middle East with annual investments in healthcare digital infrastructure reportedly set to increase from US$0.5 billion to US$1.2 billion between 2022 and 2024. There is also a thriving regional digital health sector and healthcare startup community supporting innovation and attracting investment in areas such as telehealth and consumer healthtech.
Keeping patients engaged and safe
Patient safety is the number one priority in healthcare, but there will always be risk and so there must be a continual process in place to minimise – and ideally eliminate – risk and assure patient safety. As with so many areas of healthcare, technology has an ever-deepening role to play in improving patient safety and supporting healthcare workers (enabling them to spend more time with patients) while enhancing the quality of care.
In a hospital environment, real-time health systems connect healthcare workers to each other and to critical information that underpins better safer patient experience. The most fundamental safety requirement in any hospital is the correct positive identification of the patient at every step along the care pathway, from admission (registration, scheduling) to clinical encounter (specimen taking, diagnosis, treatment, and discharge/visit completion) and post-encounter (referrals and electronic prescribing).
Industry standards are also moving things in the right direction. Stage 7 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) certification is designed to improve patient safety and measure clinical outcomes, patient engagement and clinician use of electronic medical records (EMR) technology to strengthen organisational performance and health outcomes for patients. It enables hospitals to better track data related to patients, assets and medication identification and ultimately improve operational workflows.
Findings from a recent Zebra Technologies Global Healthcare Vision Study confirm that real-time data is largely viewed as essential to delivering advanced patient care. Most hospital leaders agree that technology solutions can help improve workflows and reduce medical errors, and hospitals are now investing in location solutions across most use cases, particularly to enhance patient flow and staff operational efficiency.
Healthcare providers will continue to leverage technology to help reduce preventable errors, strengthen decision support and provide stronger healthcare protocols. More than half of clinicians and decision-makers in the Zebra study agreed that technology could help improve medication tracking, patient throughput and nursing workflows.
Seventy-eight per cent of clinicians say technology can help prevent and reduce medical errors, while 88 per cent of decision-makers think the same. Digital technology is enabling the collation of data — vital statistics, blood test results, the doctor’s diagnosis — that no longer lie hidden in paper-based folders but can be cross-referenced against hundreds of thousands of outcomes to create tailored treatment programmes. The power of digitally driven treatment plans is huge. Patients are getting the right treatment at the right time but with ever-increasing sophistication.
Compliance and telemedicine
In addition to patient safety, there are two other areas where healthcare providers should prioritise their technology investments. The first is around compliance – digital health regulations will drive tech modernisation for compliance. The World Health Organization’s report on digital health tells us that more than 120 member states have developed eHealth strategies and policies. Unique Device Identification (UDI) and medication serialised marking form an important part of the digital health practice. Both UDI and medication serialised marking provide a digital identifier on medical devices used in patients, such as a pacemaker, and medications given to patients, essentially providing the ability to accurately track and trace a device or medication.
The second is around telemedicine, which will continue to grow and gain traction outside the hospital. It has now been proven that virtual care can be quality care. Many countries now allow teleconsultations to be performed by healthcare workers other than doctors. Telehealth has increased the comfort and convenience of care for patients everywhere. People no longer need to attend a hospital or clinic for every appointment, or to get a prescription renewal or specialist referral. Improving patient communication is a top goal, with the growth in telehealth playing an important role.
The healthcare industry must evolve with today’s digital world. As it responds to technology innovations, healthcare will progress its digital transformation and, in turn, enhance patient care and safety, healthcare worker experience and operations. All good news on this World Patient Safety Day.
Thomas Duparque is the Healthcare Business Development Manager, EMEA, Zebra Technologies.
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