GE Healthcare UK & Ireland General Manager Karl Blight
With millions of people in the UK living with long-term illnesses, injuries or disabilities, the strain on the healthcare system is huge. Society’s health-related challenges have changed considerably, with people now living longer, but becoming heavier and exercising less. As a consequence, the incidence of chronic diseases has risen substantially.
The current model of healthcare is unsustainable – an ageing population, increasing demand and financial pressures mean that radical transformation is required. Increasingly, calls are being made for fundamental changes to ensure productivity can be improved and costs reduced.
To debate the role of technology in addressing these healthcare efficiency challenges, the Guardian Healthcare Network organized a live two-hour webchat on its website in which healthcare professionals and the general public were invited to participate and submit their questions.
GE Healthcare UK & Ireland General Manager Karl Blight joined the discussion along with a group of health and technology professionals from BT, 2020health, NationalVoices and the National Health Service. The array of expertise made for a lively and wide-ranging debate with many different viewpoints represented.
Panelists concurred that although technology in itself may not be the solution to all the challenges facing healthcare, it is a key tool enabling all healthcare stakeholders to work more efficiently together. The discussion ranged from enabling access to technology for elderly patients to issues such as data protection, patient empowerment and early prevention.
On the topic of the future of healthcare, Blight noted that personalized patient management and treatment will be enabled by the improved understanding and diagnosis of disease offered by advances in medical technologies, chemistry and biology. But if the promise of more patient–centric targeted healthcare is to be fulfilled, the explosion of knowledge and the pace of innovation can only be managed by a convergence of technologies driven by an investment in healthcare IT.
Blight highlighted the 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. This can be a false economy, he argued. Persisting with older technology can lead to higher maintenance costs or disrupted patient appointments. Meanwhile, some newer scanners feature innovative technology that can help save time for clinicians and reduce the burden of paperwork, connecting to field engineers who help solve issues remotely so that clinicians can focus on providing patient care.
The standardization of information exchange between differing vendors and computer systems was raised as a key challenge that needs to be addressed globally in partnership with industry, users and governments, to avoid healthcare IT applications being deployed in isolated systems that do not interface well.
Wrapping up the discussion, Blight concluded: “Many patients benefit from healthcare technologies. It is time to properly measure the benefits of their cost against both the direct and indirect costs of illness. In this regard, assessment of healthcare expenditure, including evidence-based health technology assessments, needs to consider the potential broader societal benefits that new technologies can deliver. Assessing the value of healthcare expenditure solely within the ‘bubble’ of healthcare budgets risks ignoring the benefits for the wider society.”