How technology is helping shift focus to preventative health

How digital tools can empower your patients to prevent and manage chronic disease.

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Chronic diseases account for most of the burden of ill health, yet many are considered preventable. Now digital tools that allow patients to participate in their own health care are helping shape a different future – and opening the door to new business opportunities for healthcare providers.

Chronic illness is Australia’s greatest health challenge, according to a report by La Trobe University and the Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, with half our population having at least one chronic condition. This has a profound impact on quality of life and is Australia’s leading cause of premature death.

Yet almost one third of the incidences of chronic disease are considered preventable – the result of high-risk factors such as smoking, physical inactivity, high blood pressure and poor nutrition.

It’s hardly surprising that, nationally and internationally, governments and health care specialists are looking to technology for innovative ways to tackle chronic disease and minimise its effects.

Learning from Israel’s success 

Israel has one of the most advanced digital health systems in the world, and NAB has forged an exclusive relationship with OurCrowd, an Israel-based venture funding platform that invests capital alongside pre-qualified investors in early stage start-ups. Thanks to this connection, we were able to introduce Dr Yossi Bahagon to our corporate health customers when he was recently in Australia to speak about the advances in digital health services and the part they can play in improving preventative health outcomes through patient empowerment.

The clinically active family physician is well placed in this regard, as the founder of the Digital Health Division of Israel’s Clalit Health Services. This health care maintenance organisation manages one of the world’s largest and most advanced hybrid digital health end-to-end solutions. 

Putting patients in control 

Dr Bahagon views patient empowerment as critical to preventative health. In his address to our audience, he underlined the role that digital-based, patient-centred healthcare platforms and services can play in helping patients participate in the management of their own care, through personally tailored interactive tools. Using these, they could access information, be prompted to take recommended actions and even monitor factors ranging from blood sugar levels and medication consumption to personal data, all of which could help them make better health choices.

At the same time, medical case managers could track health data and respond to patients directly or via the digital healthcare platform.

From his own experience, Dr Bahagon has found that such empowerment increases patients’ willingness to adopt actions and lifestyles that promote better health, while also improving follow-up and treatment compliance in chronic illness.

It can also cut costs by improving the way people manage their chronic disease, reduce or slow further deterioration through earlier detection, and deliver better service response time and greater transparency. 

Taking the lead

The introduction of technology also benefits health professionals. As Dr Bahagon noted in his address, providing patients with personalised digital health platforms that offer true added value can create new business opportunities, giving early adopters an opportunity to take a leadership position.

However, he believes that resistance to change, an obstacle in many fields, can be a particular challenge in the health industry. Dr Bahagon warned against standing still, pointing to the downfall of Kodak as an example – it was a company at the forefront of photography for almost 100 years until it failed to recognise that it was in the imaging business rather than the film and camera business.

Quoting University of Pennsylvania researchers David Asch and Kevin Volpp, Dr Bahagon pointed out that doctors and hospitals who pay attention to the business they are actually in – defined by the outcomes their own customers seek – will leave behind those who don’t take notice. 

How we can help

When working on the digitisation of Israel’s medical records, Dr Bahagon looked to banks for insights and information. As early adopters of technology, banks are well placed to share their experience.

In Australia, this is still the case. Most banking customers take for granted using an app to see their balance, transact and make payments at any time. In my view, as more people come to take this level of convenience for granted, they will put pressure on the healthcare sector to provide a comparable service.

At NAB, we’re committed to applying our digital skills and payment capabilities to help the health care sector digitise and operate more efficiently. For example, our HICAPS electronic claims and payments service is now helping 90 per cent of all allied health providers benefit from on-the-spot claims and payments.

Further to this, NAB is funding integrated health hubs where, along with providing regular consultations, GPs, pharmacists and allied health professionals work together to help healthy people stay well and manage the impact of chronic conditions.

I believe that, in future, it will become as natural to have a healthcare plan and visit a doctor regularly to discuss prevention as it is today to seek treatment when you’re ill.