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Health + Tech | Technology - The right tool to reduce preventable deaths

Published:Sunday | February 10, 2019 | 12:24 AMDoug Halsall

The number of preventable deaths each year is staggering.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 7.8 million people die of hypertension, 5.4 million die from smoking tobacco, 3.8 million from malnutrition, 3 million from STDs, 2.5 million from overweight and obesity, 2.8 million from poor diet, 2 million from physical inactivity and 1.9 million from alcohol.

A 2018 research from Harvard Medical School, published in the Journal Science Daily, indicates that eight million largely preventable deaths from treatable diseases cost US$6 trillion in lost economic welfare in low- and middle-income countries in 2015. If current conditions persist, low- and middle-income countries could lose collectively US$11 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030, or 2.6 per cent of total GDP.

These figures do not include persons who are sick to the point of being unable to function in society. Jamaica’s situation, as a middle-income country, is in keeping with this assessment, especially with the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases, much of which is preventable.

According to a recent Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey, more than 50 per cent of the population is obese or overweight. One in eight persons has diabetes, which results in several complications, including death.

Experts have long been explaining the importance of digital technology to improve healthcare. Overall, digitisation of healthcare has immense benefits for patient safety and involvement.

Streamlining hospital operations, for example, using technology, will allow for more efficiency. The clinician can spend less time on administrative matters and focus on patient care and safety. With the use of electronic medical records (EMR), the physician can easily access patient history and find consistent data on overall health.

Built-in Alerts and Reminders

Such a system would have built-in alerts and reminders. For example, if someone is diabetic, they could receive data that can assist them to manage their condition. They could also receive timed alerts when they need to return for follow-up. The system can identify whether someone may be in danger of developing certain illnesses and, through this assessment, put them on a path of prevention.

EMR can easily facilitate proper diagnosing which is a precursor to care. Within the EMR, there are clinical decision support tools like UpToDate, which makes instant linkages to best practise for treatment and diagnosis, saving precious time.

Health information systems can also be used to easily assess the current health situation in the country giving the Government the power to put in place specific interventions to prevent and/or curtail health issues.

Long-term planning can be accommodated and the proper and adequate resources can be obtained to address the most pressing problems that may arise before they become emergencies.

The Government’s assessment would include all the determinants of health which can easily be obtained from the technology, zeroing in matters as specific as relating to a single community or family unit. In this way, disease surveillance, tracking, and population planning can easily be achieved, which would invariably lead to better health outcomes overall and reduced incidence of preventable deaths. Health technology has also had major success in reducing medication errors.

The WHO indicates that the cost associated with this is estimated at US$42 billion, with “at least one death per day and injury to approximately 1.3 million people annually in the United States alone”.

This can largely be addressed through technology, including e-prescription and drug and clinical information tools like Lexicomp and Medispan to provide instant information on matters like drug/drug interaction, drug/food allergies and the best drug combination and means of administration for optimum care.

On a more individual level, health technology increases access to healthcare and therefore improves health-seeking behaviour.

This alone can be a major win for prevention. With technology such as telemedicine, which allows a patient to access a physician from anywhere they have connectivity, and remote care management tools, people are empowered to be more involved in managing their health, therefore, reducing the likelihood of preventable death and illness.

Millions of lives and billions of dollars can be saved with the use of health technology to improve population health and prevent death and illness.

Jamaica is moving in the right direction and it is my hope that we can achieve full healthcare digitisation in less than 10 years.

- Doug Halsall is the chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems. Feedback: Doug.halsall@gmail.com.