Healthcare is undergoing a major transformation led by digital technology. Patients are increasingly using tele-monitoring tools to collect vital data on their conditions in the comfort of their homes. Rather than pay a visit to the hospital once every few months, their results can be automatically transmitted to the care team who can keep track of those conditions 24 hours per day seven days per week.
In order to embrace these changes however, healthcare organisations need to offer a system to enable real-time communications and interactions between caregivers and patients.
That is what 24 Care Group, an international mHealth company based in Netherlands, wanted to provide through their Jive-based social collaboration platform. Called Empower, the tool was launched three years ago to "self-empower chronic heart failure patients to take the lead in their treatment," says Joop Wallenburg, Advisor to the Board at 24 Care Group.
Together with Cardiologist Dr. Asselbergs from the University Medical Hospital in Utrecht, he tested Jive initially with a small number of users from three different hospitals. "The platform met all our requirements. Plus, it was very flexible. We could easily integrate it with our healthcare system, with sensor-enabled medical devices and with other tools such as Vidyo to allow video-consultancy."
In fact, it didn't take time for the network to grow. "More and more patients were connecting everyday to interact with caregivers such as dieticians and sports therapists."
Empower allows people to have tele-consultancy on a one-to-one basis about the results that they are measuring at home. They have online conversations and make appointments with their doctors at anytime from anywhere. This level of activity makes it possible for them to stay compliant to a balanced and healthy lifestyle "preventing them getting that much ill."
"In the past, chronic heart failure patients used to visit the hospital every three months. In between there was no contact unless they got very ill. Having an interactive platform enables self-empowerment. It creates a partnership between patients and caregivers, for which patients are in control over their health," says Wallenburg.
The impact on doctor's work
But, not only is the social tool transforming patients' life, it is also improving doctors' efficiency. "They now have a platform to work much more effectively. They have 24/7 insights into their patients’ data, see the escalation of people's health, receive real-time messages, and know earlier if something is going wrong," says IN12's Henni Bakel, a Jive partner who has been supporting the project from the beginning.
A research conducted by Dr. Asselbergs during the implementation of the tool confirms this. Thanks to Empower doctors were able to treat more patients in a shorter period of time that it would normally take. The same applied to costs, which were largely reduced.
This is a big achievement; in the Netherlands, 30% of the population has this type of disease and healthcare costs are increasing every year. "Self-empowerment becomes a necessity to ensure that solutions can be provided to everyone in an effective way," points out Bakel. "If people are well enough informed to comply with their treatments, then financial resources can be saved. Individuals will need less care from hospitals while living a healthier life."
Reach a large group of patients
The additional benefit of having a social network is the ability to share important medical advice with the larger community of patients. "Communicating easily with everyone rather than reaching out to each person individually was not possible in the past," says Bakel.
Doctors are busy people. Empower allows them to save a lot of time while ensuring medical advice is properly given. For example, "patients are often told not to drink too much in the summer. This can be a challenge with the hot weather of the season. When conditions allow it, doctors can now post a message on the wider feed to inform all the people concerned that they can have a few more drinks at certain times."
The power of communities
Another important goal of the community is to have patients sharing their experiences and motivating each other as much as possible.
"Patients with such chronic diseases can have a big motivational issue. They can lose enthusiasm and interest," explains Bakel. "Sometimes they would not take their medicines at all. But, compliance to their treatments is crucial for them to live a better quality of life.”
The community lets them communicate and support one another with their health treatments. "For example, if I speak with someone who is suffering the same illness as mine, and who is following a particular cure, I may feel more encouraged to do the same."
"However", adds Wallenburg "we cannot have patients providing each other with medical advice. As soon as that happens, we alarm a caregiver to look at it and correct whatever has been shared."
Managing a community of this kind is no easy task. "It is more than a communication platform: it is a core part of the entire treatment," says Bakel.
Once a patient connects to Empower the company installs self-monitoring devices in their homes, giving them plenty of training on how to use them in conjunction with the platform. People get certified to adopt the system. After this initial process, further interactive education is provided through instructional videos.
Information stored on Empower is meant to promote well-being. Patients can access plenty of personal and social contextual resources on how to conduct a healthy lifestyle. And, to facilitate the achievement of their health goals, the company provides coaching through gamification activities.
Planning the future of social healthcare
Empower has been around for three years and its benefits to chronic heart failure patients proved. Wallenburg is now looking at rolling it out to other communities of patients.
He is also undergoing some major developments with pharmacies. The idea is to create a more efficient system for giving people with multiple diseases, such as heart failure and diabetes, a full picture of all the medicines they have to use. "At present we cannot feed that information."
Future plans also include making Empower available in multiple languages and enhancing gamification programs.
Who would have foreseen in the early days of digital communications the collaborative effects of such social tools? Self-empowerment through connected devices seems to have become the way to go if we want to realise the full benefits of social enterprise. The result in the case of 24Care: a much healthier organisation both operationally and in terms of the personal wellbeing of their patients.