Healthcare delivery is increasingly centering on the patient and moving out of the hospital, becoming more distributed into smaller facilities and sub-units of care, and even coming to the patient’s home. Technology is making this possible, and modern consumer expectations of individually tailored service are making it desirable. And as America ages, and seniors opt to age in place in their home, medical and caregiving services, and treatments are moving to the patient’s location. Distributed healthcare fits in line with the medical profession’s overarching trend of fitting healthcare to the patient as opposed to fitting the patient to healthcare. The government, too, wants to move towards a more patient-centered health care system, evolving into a consumer-driven system. As medical services leave the centralized hospital, they are instead distributed throughout the community. This system may include at-home care, visiting nurses, small local facilities, and more.
1 Problems and Solutions
In an age of stretched resources, the idea of not wasting time, effort, and money on unnecessary procedures makes economic and social sense. And distributed healthcare is growing as the United States faces a healthcare crisis in the next few years. Some issues, including: drive this crisis
- Shifting demographics. By 2040, 80 million Americans will be 65 or older.
- Rising costs of healthcare. Two out of three people who file for bankruptcy cite medical bills as a critical factor.
- Staff shortfalls. Some predict a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030.
Distributed Healthcare offers several advantages to consumers, including:
- Tailored Services. Consumers can choose only the services that they need and want.
- Freedom of Choice. Patients can easily change doctors, hospitals, and potentially insurance agencies.
- Greater Independence. With the aid of technology such as wearable sensors and digital reminders to take medication, more patients can remain at home and maintain their independence.
- Up-to-date Records. Medical records can be updated in real-time via smart tech.
In our current system, a centralized healthcare agency such as a hospital reacts to an urgent problem by trying to fix it. Hospitals and the like do very well with medical emergencies. However, this system is, in many ways, ill-suited to other health issues. One of the areas where it falls shortest is for seniors with chronic conditions.
2 The Aging Population
Retired seniors may have several chronic conditions that impact their quality of life but are not immediately life-threatening. In the old healthcare model, they would be expected to go to the hospital to deal with their conditions. This is both costly and inconvenient for a population that often has mobility issues. In a distributed system, healthcare is fit to the patient’s needs and wishes. Seniors might instead be visited at home by a nurse. The nurse could access their medical record and recommend that they wear a sensor that can sound an alarm if there’s a health crisis. Today’s alert and reminder systems are lightweight, decorative, and installable both in the home and on the person. Alert systems are usually a bracelet or pendant that the patient wears, to use to call 911 in the event of a fall or other emergency. Many methods have automatic fall-detection and communicate with 24-hour response centers. Several medical alert system reviews detail the particular features of each system, allowing seniors to shop around for the best life alert system for their needs. Wearable devices and mobile technologies enable patients, families, caregivers, and the medical infrastructure all to remain in touch, from the front lines to the back office, and connecting with the record system. This lets stakeholders know where people are at any time, and to schedule where they should be when along with treatments and medications. Except for extreme situations, seniors can stay at home in comfort, maintaining their independence. Distributed healthcare in this scenario saves the patient time and money, as well as saving a local hospital’s resources.
Information technology now makes it possible to break out of the centralized infrastructure of the hospital, and the single data silo of patient records, into networked access to patient health and smaller, more local and more tailored responses to individual patient requirements. Perhaps the most key factor in distributing healthcare is ensuring the integrity of a patient’s medical record. This contains medical history, allergies, drugs are taken, and more. Patients and their healthcare teams must be able quickly and easily to access a complete record that reflects the very latest version. The potential dilemma is that patient records must be both protected and also quickly accessible. Recent technological breakthroughs like blockchain encryption may bridge this gap between data privacy and multiple access. When data is encrypted, only people authorized with the right key can read the file. This means that blockchain encryption could free medical files from hospital servers and mountains of paperwork. Instead, the patient and other authorized personnel may be able to look at the information virtually anytime, anyplace.
The old healthcare model will not meet the needs of our aging population. Distributed healthcare is a promising alternative. It puts patients in the driver’s seat of their treatment plans and now gives them more options than ever. In our technological age, it’s how we live with every other service in our lives nowadays, and it’s exciting to see healthcare changing the same way.