Technology in healthcare

I found a link on twitter today on useful apps for women’s urinary incontinence but disappointed to see that they are all American. It got me thinking though…

There seems to be a reluctance to embrace technology in healthcare but we expect it everywhere else. I recently renewed my car insurance. I hate sorting out insurance and for the last few years have done it entirely online (I find speaking to people on the phone quite painful). It is possible, simple and normal to arrange insurance without ever having to speak to someone.  At the same time I’m trying to arrange an out patients procedure for myself at my local hospital. It is turning into a small saga with no real sign of being sorted after more than 3 months of waiting, writing and phoning. Working full time doesn’t make it easy to contact a hospital department which is only open 9-5 Monday to Friday. In most other sectors of modern life I can contact someone or make arrangements 24 hours a day via the internet. I’m not expecting my local hospital to discuss an appointment with me at 3am on a Thursday morning but a little more flexibility than the current offering would be nice.

Other businesses can do this and have embraced the use of technology to improve customer interaction. Why has healthcare been so reluctant?  My attempts to introduce more technology at work have often been met with a general feeling that it is not relevant to our patient group – it would not be used. My gut feeling is that this simply not true – recently in clinic I had an 86 year old lady offer me her email address as her preferred method of communication.  Whilst our patient population is predominantly eldery, 10% of our caseload are children. We deal with parents, relatives, carers and professionals who are all busy and highly likely to use electronic methods of communication quite comfortably in other areas of their lives.  For our service I created a generic email account, accessible by all team members a couple of years ago. This has been hugely successful in improving communication with both the general public and other professionals.  As a very small service it is difficult to get through to us on the phone and immediately speak to a nurse. The email account ensures that queries can be dealt with more quickly and efficiently than frequently attempting to return calls.

At a time when we are looking to make savings, both in terms of time and money through QIPP, I believe there are a number of small technological opportunities that we can take advantage of for a minimal cost outlay (if any).  Many of these will improve communication with the public or at least offer an alternative method of communication which can only help us to reach more people.

So, I will go away and put QR codes onto our patient information leaflets even though my team worry I have lost it. I have downloaded lots of continence related apps onto my ipad (bizarrely this does not worry my husband) and will be blogging my thoughts very soon.