In modern healthcare, is there a limit to the hype of technology?
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Is this the end of sexy?
Last year it was the year of the wearable. This year it is voice-activated technologies like Alexa that are captivating the world’s attention.
Enticed by the possibility of embedding Alexa’s technology into a host of products to transform the way we interact with the world, companies like GE and Whirlpool have already started to create mesmerising possibilities. “Smart” lamps and washing machines that can be controlled simply by talking to them are here. More potential applications are on the way.
It all sounds alluring. But is there a limit to the hype of technology? At what point does the irresistibility of “the next sexy thing” become outweighed by the realities of affordability, usability and even desirability?
I believe the end of sexy is now.
Take Theranos. Just a few short years ago, the world was enticed by new technology that promised to revolutionise the way blood is drawn. In theory, patients could test their own blood at home, with a quick finger prick, no needles, and rapid results.
Then, in 2016, that bubble of hope burst when it was revealed that the testing process was unreliable. The reality is, sometimes technology fails.
With rapidly increasing life expectancies and a rise in chronic illnesses, demand for healthcare could not be higher. But amid shortfalls in the availability of skilled workers and dwindling budgets, we are pressured to do more with less. Can digitisation help in healthcare? Yes, but not always.
Developing digital solutions merely for the sake of keeping up with the digital trend is not the answer.
The healthcare industry simply cannot afford to be seduced by every new attractive technology. But, when it does, here is what we need to consider:
- Is there proof that it improves the quality of care offered?
- Does it reduce the time burden on healthcare professionals – realistically?
- Is it easy to use, especially for medical assistants who can share the workload burden with more qualified staff?
- Does it reduce overall costs?
- Is the pool of those who will benefit large enough to make it attractive?
When these criteria are met, healthcare innovation is worthwhile.
We’ve seen this specifically in wound care. Many wound care products on the market only are appropriate for treating certain kinds of wounds – requiring healthcare systems to stock up on a variety of products, at significant burden in terms of both training and cost.
At HARTMANN for example, we focus on two wound dressings in our Hydrotherapy range. Together, these products can treat up to 80 percent of chronic wounds. For us, a proof point that simple can be much more useful than sexy. This is reinforced in our patient approval ratings for this range which are at 94 percent 1.
That is not to say that technology won’t be critical to the future of healthcare. But I do predict the way we use technology will change drastically. We will move away from “sensational” solutions, replacing them with sensible, smart innovations that add value – sometimes by using technology, sometimes not.
The extremely relevant – and urgent – global health issue of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) is another example. In this case technology isn’t even necessary, but a supplementary solution.
Research shows that up to 90 percent of HAIs are transmitted via the hands2. We know that it’s possible to reduce certain infections by up to 40 percent just by implementing proper hand hygiene practices3 – a preventative solution we would call “simple.”
Therefore, we partner with hospitals to help them improve hand hygiene compliance rates and standardise proven hygiene processes -- from hand rub training and disinfectant placement. But the support of a digital app helps to track and monitor individual progress. Overall, the service is tailor-made for each hospital. It’s that simple. You see, I predict that sexy is out. Simple, measurable value is in.
(1) Ousey R, et al (2016). HydroClean® plus: a new perspective to wound cleansing and debridement. Wounds UK 12 (1) 94-104
(2) Kramer A.(2006) Hand hygiene - patient and staff protection. GMS Krankenhaushyg Interdiszip 1(1):Doc14
(3) Kampf et al. (2009). Hand Hygiene for the Prevention of Nosocomial Infections. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 106(40):649-55
Andreas has enjoyed a long international career within the healthcare industry. Mölnlycke Health Care, Medtronic, Coloplast, and 3M are all companies where he has held leadership positions over the years and he was the CEO of the HARTMANN GROUP from 2013 to 2018.