18th September 2023.

The unsustainable healthcare truth 

Healthcare is in a reactive state across the globe, with long waiting lists that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and new cases being treated further and further down the line. At the same time, we are seeing a consistent rise in chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and asthma. Not only that, but the risk of these chronic diseases actually increases with age as more than half of people over 65 have at least one. With an ageing population and these growing numbers, it is clear this model is not sustainable. 

Raising awareness, promoting patient education, implementing screening campaigns, and activating patients to take charge of their own healthcare, can all help transform the current system to reduce the burden on services and pave the way for a healthier, happier population. 

Top health problems of today are preventable 

Chronic illnesses are usually those of a long duration, and are the result of a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental, and behavioral factors. According to WHO, they result in the deaths of 41 million people each year, which is equivalent to a shocking 74% of all deaths globally, and so it is clear something needs to be done to better support these people and tackle the serious burden this creates on the healthcare system. 

Harmful lifestyle choices, such as tobacco use, physical inactivity, overuse of alcohol, and unhealthy diets all greatly increase the mortality rate associated with these illnesses. Moving from a reactive to a proactive model of healthcare will help to address these choices, and mark an important evolution in how we look at wellbeing. Instead of waiting for illnesses to escalate we need to begin prioritising general health, whilst identifying risk factors and being informed and prepared for the future. 

Nudging patients to better health 

Nudging’ is a theory from behavioral economics, which aims to encourage people to make different decisions through a variety of persuasive methods such as presentations, messages and pictures, tech-supported info, financial incentives, affecting the senses, and cognitive loading 

Framing messages positively, using informal language, visual cues, and creating an emotional response are shown to influence decisions and encourage healthier behaviors. Successful implementations of nudges have made a significant impact on public health by addressing the leading causes of preventable diseases and deaths worldwide: smoking and obesity. One study reported that a text messaging program increased smoking cessation rates by about 70% compared to standard care. 

Many of us have our mobile phone within arm’s reach 24/7, so nudging patients via SMS is an effective and low-cost tool for affecting behavioral change, such as encouraging patients to get flu and covid vaccinations before winter. Influencing and empowering patients with the information they need to make positive choices around their own health results in better outcomes, whilst simultaneously taking enormous pressure off of healthcare services.  

It starts with the educated patient 

Educating patients consistently results in earlier detection of conditions or disease and therefore plays a pivotal role in enhancing health outcomes, as well as promoting a focus on general wellbeing. By equipping people with trustworthy and accessible information about their medical conditions, treatment options, and preventative measures, organisations can empower them to make informed decisions about their health from the very beginning.  

Effective patient education also creates a collaborative relationship between healthcare teams and their patients, enabling more active participation in managing their health. It contributes to improved adherence to treatment plans, healthier lifestyles, and earlier intervention in case of health concerns. Through easily digestible information, useful digital health platforms, and interactive resources, patients can gain a clear understanding of their own health and all the factors influencing it. 

Prioritising screening attendance 

Identifying health concerns as early as possible through screening is considered the key to a healthier society. By placing emphasis on early detection and preventive measures, screening programs can catch potential health concerns before they escalate into more serious conditions. Colon cancer caught early has a 91% 5-year survival rate, vs an only 11% survival rate if it is caught late and has spread to other organs. The importance of effective and engaging screening services is critical.  

Recent figures have revealed that nearly 4 in 10 women invited to a breast screening appointment did not attend. In Greater Manchester, the Breast Screening Programme (BSP) has improved attendance with the rollout of SMS reminders and by increasing pre-screening engagement, missed appointments have reduced by 4%. These cost-effective reminders are potentially lifesaving, especially for patients that may have forgot otherwise.

In 2021-2022, the NHS National BSP detected cancers in 20,152 women across England, which otherwise could have been diagnosed and treated at a later stage. This also leads to the idea of personalised medicine, by tailoring screenings to individuals’ specific risks and medical histories, organisations can optimise healthcare resources whilst providing a much-needed, patient-centered approach. 

The power of PIFU 

Patient Initiated Follow Ups go beyond traditional healthcare boundaries and reshape the dynamics, recognising that patients are the experts in their own experiences and bodies. By providing them with the power to self-manage their conditions and initiate follow-ups as and when they really need them rather than at scheduled intervals we can greatly improve their experience. Patients can address concerns that may have been forgotten or not apparent during routine visits, which reduces the potential for overlooked issues, promoting early intervention and potentially preventing complications that could be a burden on A&E and emergency services.  

Analytics generated by PIFU allows the data to speak for the patients, so healthcare providers can pick up on patterns in symptoms and prevent the progression of illnesses, on an individual level as well as a population, such as specific allergies in certain seasons or something newly causing IBD flare ups.  

Endometriosis patients at Homerton University Hospital NHS Trust have greater control of their care following the launch of digital PIFU. With our platform, these patients are empowered to access digital questionnaires at any time and rapidly alert care teams about flares or worrying symptoms. Digital questionnaires are also automatically triggered at 3, 6 and 9 month intervals, along with self-care support and information, whilst this data opens up opportunities for research on the effectiveness of treatments and improve knowledge of the condition. 

A shift from passive healthcare to an engaged partnership 

As a rule, when patients are active participants in their own health management it leads to improved outcomes and enhanced satisfaction. Moving towards proactive and preventative care, and utilising personalised technology that empower patients to take control, has the potential to transform population health while freeing hospital beds, improving access and reducing costs with a switch to digital.  

Prioritising screening services, patient education and activation tools is a multifaceted approach that aligns with the fundamental goal of healthcare: to improve and maintain the public’s health and quality of life.