In my role as Divisional General Manager for Digital Health Transformation & Innovation at Mediclinic, I am responsible for harnessing the power of digital technology and making sure that we utilise it to the benefit of our patients and business. There’s no doubt that technology has revolutionised the way we access and deliver healthcare over the last 10 years, and will continue to do so.
Take telemedicine as an example. Back in 2015 when I started in telehealth, telemedicine was not a well-received service. Patients were not trusting of virtual doctors and insurance companies would not pay for it. Fast forward to 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, and you can see how this perception changed almost overnight. For most patients, with restricted access to healthcare facilities, it was the only way they could consult with a doctor, and for doctors, it was the only they could treat their patients.
At Mediclinic, we started with 2,000 teleconsultations per month at the beginning of the pandemic, and now, almost four years later, we are conducting 20,000 a month. We have witnessed organic growth in the service, even after the necessity was removed because patients had tried it and saw the value in it. They are also better educated about their health and more conscious of whether their condition can be managed virtually or not. Insurers have also seen how telemedicine can reduce costs and provide access and have included telemedicine in their packages.
A huge shift has already taken place in how healthcare can be delivered, but we don’t expect it to end there. We anticipate that telemedicine will become part of a more integrated model of healthcare for the management of chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, and linked to healthcare systems which use data from wearable devices. Wearables are not new. Patients were given a device by their doctor to be worn for some time, but the doctors would not see the results from that device until the patient’s next visit. Today, due to the advances in this type of technology, the model has moved to one of continuous engagement, where readings from the wearable can be sent continuously to the doctor, and if he sees an area for concern, he can intervene immediately. Increased use of these devices, however, means more pressure on the doctor, but AI systems will have a role in being able to predict possible deteriorations and so, intervention can be done at an earlier stage, and not always by a doctor.
This model is very beneficial for both the patient and the healthcare system because once you start helping the patient before their condition becomes acute, they are less likely to be hospitalised, and it costs the insurers less, which will help the implementation of future funding models like Value-Based Care (VBC). This balance between the needs of the patient and the payer is greatly needed for population health programmes such as this. There are still challenges though on how you engage the patient into that system. Just as patients needed to make the mental shift to telemedicine, they needed to appreciate the benefits of this type of system. Success is dependent on proper communication, engagement, onboarding and training.
AI and machine learning is becoming increasingly prevalent in healthcare. At Mediclinic, we are already using it behind the scenes, in administrative areas such as coding to improve accuracy, and clinically in the reading of radiology images. AI can release pressure on caregivers and act as a co-pilot, helping deliver more efficient and reliable outputs. AI is not about the replacement of the doctor, it’s about collaboration, empowerment and enablement. A doctor with AI can manage a much greater number of patients more effectively than a doctor without AI, and I think it will increasingly become the norm over the next few years.
From a patient’s perspective, digital technology can empower them in their healthcare, give them the tools to make informed decisions about their treatment and improve accessibility. At Mediclinic, we’re proud of how far we have come in the digital space for the benefit of our patients – from the swift introduction of telemedicine in 2020, the launch of an appointment management app, which also serves as the platform for teleconsultations, a secure patient portal that allows them immediate access to their test results and medical records, the establishment of multiple communication channels so they can reach us whenever and however they wish, and automated processes to increase the speed of eligibility checks and insurance approvals, meaning that the process of visiting the doctor is faster and more seamless than ever before. In the future, we plan to use digital health as a companion to the patients during their treatment journey.
When it comes to the use of technology to improve our healthcare processes and services, Mediclinic has so much in store over the next few months and years. Watch this space!
Ahmad Awada is the Divisional General Manager for Digital Health Transformation & Innovation at Mediclinic.