Reliable and comprehensive healthcare should be close to the citizen. It’s a doctor in the neighborhood, a pharmacy around the corner, and community workers knocking on the doors of the elderly. It’s a virtual consultation with a nurse and an app providing answers to health-related questions in the middle of the night. It’s how individuals can get care in their homes.
- Health systems have learned a hard lesson – there are still too many barriers between patients and doctors, whether it’s distance, costs, communication gaps, pandemics, or healthcare professional shortages
- During the COVID-19 pandemic and after the crisis, onsite visits and solo practices won’t manage to deliver patient-oriented, coordinated, and accessible care, or high-quality and safe medical services. Hybrid, analog-digital models will
- Virtual care was suddenly the only bridge between patients and doctors when lockdown made personal contact impossible
- While digital technologies have played a neglected role in these areas until now, this crisis has offered space to try out new or rarely used technologies
- Even the most modern healthcare systems won’t be efficient if they don’t engage individuals
- Homes are the centers of people’s lives. We often work from home and spend most of our time there. This is an environment where our health starts and where primary care should be present 24/7 through digital tools supporting different citizen groups in their wellness and health journey
- Care and health start at home. New primary care models addressing citizens’ expectations and healthcare challenges are under construction
Delayed diagnoses and cancelled appointments put patients at risk
During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of primary healthcare consultations has dropped by 51% in the United States, 50% in Belgium, 39% in Germany, 30% in England, and 25% in France. Some healthcare facilities closed their doors, switching to telecare services. In others, the phonelines were busy for days, while free spots for online appointments were booked out days ahead.
Health systems have been derailed and many individuals were left alone. Some feared getting infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Others didn’t want to burden the doctor unnecessarily, knowing that they must focus on patients in need of urgent care. Whether the reason was anxiety, empathy, or solidarity with frontline workers, illness has its own rules. Due to late diagnoses and treatments, cancer deaths may increase by 20% in the year following the COVID-19 pandemic, finds one study in the United Kingdom. 46% of French patients with chronic conditions did not visit their family doctor for a follow-up. The delay in diagnosis and its negative impact on the end results has long been one of the factors adversely affecting patient outcomes. Unfortunately, it’s also often hidden and extremely difficult to address in analog healthcare, as its roots lie in disruptions in physician-patient communication.
Health systems have learned a hard lesson – there are still too many barriers between patients and doctors, whether it’s distance, costs, communication gaps, pandemics, or healthcare professional shortages. Frontline care must become even closer to the patient, easy to navigate, available in local communities, and available on-demand from home via digital tools. Since countries worldwide have been testing new primary care models, the latest studies demonstrate the benefits patients were waiting for.
Achieving patient-oriented care
According to the OECD report “Strengthening the frontline: How primary healthcare helps health systems adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic,” many countries managed to strengthen the frontline by reorganizing the delivery of care services, reconfiguring the responsibilities of healthcare workers and leveraging digital health tools. “Strong primary healthcare – organized in multi-disciplinary teams and with innovative roles for health professionals, integrated with community health services, equipped with digital technology, and working with well-designed incentives – helps deliver a successful health system response,” state the authors of the OECD report.
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