Sharing: the future of healthcare reform

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Michelle Nicholas, from Canon Europe talks about the importance of data sharing for the future of healthcare reform.

Michelle Nicholas

Michelle Nicholas

The time it takes to piece together a patient’s medical history can profoundly affect the treatment, and the quality of the treatment, patients receive. The benefits of web-based data sharing are largely agreed on: making relevant healthcare information available whenever and wherever it is needed reduces medical errors, prevents doctors from repeating diagnostic procedures that have already been undertaken and provides life-saving documentation when a patient is unable to communicate.

As well as improving patient care, it also has the potential to improve efficiency and reduce healthcare costs. A 2009 eHealth Initiative Survey of health information exchanges in the USA found that the data-sharing system significantly reduced administration time spent handling lab results, radiology reports and clerical tasks.

We’ve seen considerable progress in Europe in the past 10 years through the European Union’s eHealth Initiative and the European Patients—Smart Open Services (EPSOS) pilot scheme. European countries committed to improve cross-enterprise document sharing (XDS) in 2004 by signing up to the eHealth Action Plan endorsed by the European Council. The action plan showed that national governments were motivated to develop nationwide health data-sharing initiatives over small-scale projects, and ultimately to share data across borders in Europe. To date, there are 22 member states currently involved in EPSOS, a large-scale project to design, build and evaluate a data-sharing infrastructure.

healthcare_thumb_tcm13-1089718Looking beyond Europe, Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) is an international initiative to improve the way that healthcare computer systems share information. IHE recently defined an architectural infrastructure for data sharing—the XDS integration profile—which lets multiple health IT systems share patient information in the form of documents, images and reports.

Several XDS-based projects are currently underway in Canada and Europe. Canon recently acquired Netherlands-based medical solutions specialist Delft Diagnostic Imaging, which specialises in XDS for sharing digital images and medical records, to advance solutions in this area.

Beyond advantages to clinicians, systems that support cooperation between a greater number of locations mean patients could have greater choice over where they are treated; the central system remains up to date regardless of where each stage in the clinical process occurs. And freedom of choice may soon extend not only to hospitals within a patient’s local area or country, but also across Europe, removing obstacles that patients face if they wish to travel for treatment in other EU countries.

Data-sharing and shared-workflow systems also afford the patient more control, making it easier, for example, to get a second opinion from a separate provider if they are unhappy about a proposed treatment.

The revolution of healthcare is already underway, and has a promising path ahead. Having instant access to medical records through data sharing will undoubtedly change the face of healthcare for the better, provided citizens retain their rights to opt out and define how much information they personally share.

Michelle Nicholas is European Customer Marketing Manager, Canon Europe

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How imaging technology can help tackle the funding challenge facing healthcare

Karl Blight high resKarl Blight, UK and Ireland General Manager at GE Healthcare considers how imaging technology can help tackle the funding challenge facing healthcare

NHS England’s recent strategy paper, ‘A Call to Action’ [1] Identified a potential £30 billion funding gap between spending and resources by 2020-21 if services continue to be delivered as they are now. This challenge will require significant changes in how healthcare is provided so that productivity can be improved and costs reduced.

While much attention will be paid to structural changes around how the NHS is organised, and to where and how patients access healthcare and are treated, funding decision makers need to recognise that investment in appropriate technology can make a major contribution to improving the efficiency of the healthcare system. There is a general misconception that the up-front cost of healthcare technology is prohibitive and, at a time of economic austerity, should be amongst the first areas to be constrained. But, this can be a false economy. Persisting with older technology can lead to higher maintenance costs, disrupted patient appointments due to increased downtime and slower scans, while newer equipment can increase productivity with higher uptimes and better quality images that enable more confident diagnoses and make repeat scans less likely.

Meanwhile, some newer scanners feature state-of-the-art technology that can help save time for clinicians and reduce the burden of paperwork, for example connecting to field engineers who help solve issues remotely so that clinicians can focus on providing patient care. In addition, many medical device manufacturers are investing in the development of new products which have been engineered to meet specific needs at a lower price point. Many are specifically designed to be portable and efficient to operate for the user. Not all situations require the high end technology, and manufacturers are providing equipment that can be tailored to the particular needs of the user or service.

Revolutionary developments in medical technology encompass not only the physical kit. The rise of digitisation, particularly in imaging and in data analysis, transfer and management, is good for the patient and also has huge potential to boost productivity. The combination of big data analytics and clinical information is helping healthcare professionals to identify issues, design solutions and implement patient and system level changes much faster than previously possible. There is a vast reserve of data in healthcare and we are only at the beginning of making the most of it.

The medical device industry, by investing in the development of new technologies, is playing an important role in helping practitioners to deliver better, more cost effective care to patients. Clinicians and technology providers alike now need to ensure that UK healthcare budget holders don’t just focus on the perceived costs associated with new equipment, and instead understand and recognise the value, productivity potential and long term benefits that investing in appropriate technology can bring, both to improving patient care, and to helping the NHS meet its funding gap.

[1] http://www.england.nhs.uk/2013/07/11/call-to-action/