Health + Tech | Chaining the NCD beast with technology
October was celebrated as breast cancer awareness month and it brought into focus the very long-standing and urgent matter of the effect of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) on the Jamaican, Caribbean and world population.
Although most deaths each year are from these diseases, I do not get the feeling that people generally take the issue serious enough.
At a recent event, Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton indicated that it will cost the country more than $70 billion in the next 15 years to treat persons with NCDs.
This is from a 2011 study which was done by founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, and Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, Julio Frenk, titled 'The Global Economic Burden of Non-Communicable Diseases'.
In 2008, more deaths in Jamaica were as a result of NCDs than any other factor. So why are we not taking it more seriously? The simple answer is that it requires prevention and maintained care if one is already afflicted.
This sounds simple but is quite difficult to implement and maintain without the use of technology. Health technology, although not the complete solution, can go a far way, along with other systematic and consistent measures, in assisting with this problem.
We have already seen how some wearable technology is changing the face of health care and allowing people to be more aware and in charge of their health. The DynoSense line of remote care management products, for example, can, among other things, allow one to monitor their blood pressure and sugar levels if diabetes and hypertension are concerns.
These are relatively cheap when compared to what it would take to constantly treat these conditions. Hypertension, known as the silent killer, can even lead to death without much warning, so getting this is a much smaller price to pay.
Perhaps we should begin looking at providing them as part of insurance policies and general health benefits for those at risk. This would ensure that people have the means to be more engaged in protecting their health and relieve the burden on the health system from conditions that are preventable.
Another approach is through the digitisation and linking of hospitals and private medical, dental and optical practices as well as diagnostic centres. Once these areas are digitised, one would be able to create a complete electronic medical record for each patient through scanning and adding already existing data.
This would facilitate early detection, provide the ability to track, analyse and forecast, as well as determine various risk factors through even family history or genetic predisposition. It would put the patient in a strong position to take charge of the direction in which they wish to go to prevent certain illnesses, maintain a healthy balance or initiate early intervention, if required.
These would all be potentially way less costly for the patient, health system and the country than end-stage treatment and the social and economic effects of that. The good thing is that these digitised systems are readily available locally.
The full digitisation of hospitals, as is now happening at the University Hospital of the West Indies, and other medical facilities, could also allow for the tracking of persons diagnosed with certain NCDs that require systematic follow-up and treatment.
Alerts could be sent to these persons when an appointment is due. This would provide the consistent monitoring that is required for conditions like hypertension and diabetes. In addition, increased public education could be facilitated by allowing easy access to general health information.
Patients can be kept abreast of their condition, medication, implications of lifestyle practices and simple and workable solutions to improve their health. They could also be given information on new and innovative practices and treatments that could help their condition.
There is so much that can be done with technology to engage patients with their health practitioners and facilities to improve their health and reduce the resources that we have to put towards treating non-communicable diseases.