Saving Lives Through Collaborative Health

09 August 2013 | Dr. Tatiana Znamenskaya , Health and Social Services Operation Manager and Market Analyst for Microsoft in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa

Can a person be partially healthy? Obviously not. Health is a holistic notion. People feel they are healthy as long as they can maintain stability despite an influx of external real-life influences such as stress, psychic overload, allergens, parasites, etc.

But does the contemporary healthcare system support such a view?

The present structure of the European health system is built around separate specialties, representing parts of the organism, but not health as a whole. Think about various branches: cardiology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, etc. When was the last time that your endocrinologist talked to your gastroenterologist to understand how your pancreas is functioning?

As in all complex systems, the human body is a single entity, and its total is not the sum of parts. On top of that, many people, especially those suffering from chronic diseases, may simultaneously have multiple related conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, hypercholesterolemia, atherosclerosis, and coronary heart diseases. Sustainable health requires multidisciplinary knowledge, yet the healthcare industry is going deep, but narrow. To expect a single medical professional to know everything is utopian, but pervasive communication between the doctors may revive the holistic view of human health.

Today’s reality is that poor communication in hospitals between healthcare professionals, patients and physicians accounts for 80 percent of various types of medical errors.1 Take, for example, the referral process, the transfer of patients between shifts and specialties. Managing a patient’s care across the “shift gap” (e.g., from Friday to Sunday evening) with traditional manual handovers is often prone to miscommunication and breakdown. In response to this particular challenge, Microsoft partner Ascribe worked with Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust to develop an eHandover solution that can handle more than 20,000 patient handovers, saving much grief and pain. Other challenges remain. For example, about 7,000 people die in the US annually due to sloppy physician handwriting.2 IT can change that, too.

Lack of medical specialists is a problem for the European health system. According to the German Medical Association, about 5,000 positions in German hospitals are unfilled. A decade from now, nearly 20,000 senior physicians and head physicians will have retired with no replacement. Clearly, these shortages of medical professionals can be detrimental for patients whose lives depend on timely expertise, e.g., in the cases of stroke or cardiac failure. Each year in the UK, more than 110,000 people suffer a stroke, at a total cost to NHS of more than £2.8 billion. When a person with a suspected stroke arrives, a doctor on duty has to decide quickly on the stroke type, the time window being 3–4 hours. Ischemic stroke should be quickly treated with clot-busting medications, e.g., tPA (tissue plasminogen activator); the same treatment used in the case of hemorrhagic stroke can kill the patient.

Not every hospital has a stroke unit or medical professionals who can quickly administer computer tomography (CT) and correctly interpret CT images. Consultation with the neurologist is often urgently required. NHS Cumbria and Lancashire Cardiac and Stroke Network (CSNLC), together with NHS Surrey Stroke and Heart Network, has addressed the problem by choosing the Polycom Telestroke solution, which is optimized for Microsoft Lync Collaboration Suite with integrated voice, video, and messaging services. Fifteen consultants are now available from home, servicing approximately 2.2 million people remotely across the region. In the first year after implementing the Polycom Telestroke kit, the CSNLC has saved 70 additional lives and $70 million through early intervention.

These numbers speak for themselves. IT is not just a nice ribbon for cities to tie after all the houses are built, roads are paved, and trees are planted. Collaborative IT solutions can radically change the European approach to healthcare and save citizens’ lives.

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1.    Zoetic. Preventable Medical Errors: 30bln opportunities

2. Referral MD: [infographic]

Dr. Tatiana Znamenskaya
Health and Social Services Operation Manager and Market Analyst for Microsoft in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa

Microsoft in Health Blog

About the Author

Dr. Tatiana Znamenskaya | Health and Social Services Operation Manager and Market Analyst for Microsoft in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa

After receiving her PhD in Political and Social Science from Moscow State University, Dr. Tatiana Znamenskaya spent a decade researching the impact of public opinion on social environment, specifically on nuclear safety. Read more