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Apps or APIs: How Can We Improve Patient Communication In Healthcare?

The UK is currently in the unique position of having a public health system that’s being shaped by private enterprise. This presents us with a critical question: How can we create harmony between public healthcare and private innovation?

The NHS is operating under an increasing amount of pressure, and according to Alphalake Ai CEO Olly Cogan, the burden must be shared by health innovators and disruptors. This means working within the system while also spearheading the changes needed to improve it.


Cogan’s position is that as healthcare innovators, we need to be more strategic in integrating our offerings. Competition is essential, but it needs to conform to a central strategy. When it comes to patient communication, this strategy starts with a shared digital gateway designed to ensure the public always knows where to go when they need to connect with healthcare. Of course, this platform doesn’t have to service every possible healthcare need. What it does need to do is act as a hub within which such services can be connected. 


How do we foster the development of such a shared healthcare gateway? According to Cogan, connecting healthcare means incentivising API development rather than app development. To illustrate the advantages of a centralised and optimised patient communication platform, let’s consider the field of chronic pain management. 


The importance of patient communication in chronic pain management

Better patient communication can help us move from a “sick care model” – one that waits for people to become unwell before taking action – to a healthcare model that acts both reactively and proactively, helping us maintain wellness, prevent illness, and manage any conditions that do arise. 


According to pain management specialist Dr Avneesh Khare, this is an essential step that needs to be taken if we are to offer better pain management for patients. Dr Khare explains that while current treatments may be effective, patient follow-up is not consistently managed. This means valuable data is lost. 


With an app that has an easy user interface, this problem could be addressed, and valuable data on chronic pain management could be gained. As Dr Khare explains, 


“When [patients] come to us in the pain clinic, we can diagnose the disease and offer medication and other interventions. However, they are often lost to follow up, or they don’t come back. We need a national pain registry or some other way to manage the data. We need to be able to have consistent communication with the patient.” 


While it is a positive result if a patient doesn’t return because their issue was resolved by the medical intervention, this is also a significant lost opportunity. Improved communication tools would give medical professionals a detailed understanding of what’s happening with each patient. In addition to allowing for better treatment plans for those individuals, the data collected could shape and improve the approach clinics take going forward, meaning each patient would be able to contribute to better outcomes for all. 


Dr Khare notes that better communication tools could also help with opioid medication tracking. In the present system, patients are given their medication and instructions on how to use it, but it’s easy to forget or misunderstand directions, particularly when experiencing physical distress. This means many patients may not fully understand how to use their medication effectively for optimal pain management. According to Dr Khare, this can be the difference between misery and relief.


“Pain is a biopsychosocial phenomenon. Each patient responds differently to pain, so we need tools that can help us collect the data in an automated fashion to help us develop a better picture.” 


The ideal patient communication tools

Improving patient outcomes is not just about having communication tools – it’s about having quality communication tools. As Olly Cogan points out, 


“There needs to be a good User Experience for us to be able to collect that data in the first place. People skip over this part a lot and wonder why the data they’re collecting isn’t all that useful. It’s because they haven’t made the User Experience and its incentive points good enough to accurately capture the right data.”


Quality communication tools lead to quality data, and quality data helps us put mechanisms in place to manage all the subtle variations that can greatly improve treatment plans. It also allows for pattern recognition and big data analytics, which can be of benefit to the entire healthcare system. 


Are apps the answer to better communication in healthcare?

In healthcare, and indeed in all industries, companies compete to create the app most people want to use. However, Cogan warns against this approach in the field of patient communication. 


“I think we should use digital technology, but I don’t think healthcare needs another app. What we can do is use things like the NHS App as a better communication gateway for patients. To do this, we need to be incentivising companies like TPP and SystemOne not to bring out apps that compete with the NHS App but to bring out APIs that allow them to integrate different software programs together.”


No-code data connectors enable healthcare organisations to work within the ecosystem better and communicate their services through the NHS App or any other agreed platform. In this way, we can bring some strategic structure into how we communicate with patients and how they communicate back with their healthcare providers. 


In addition to delivering operational efficiency and valuable data, this approach could reduce stress levels for patients dealing with afflictions like chronic pain, cancer, and autoimmune conditions. It can also help us provide better care to patients, ensuring that any recommendations provided to them take into account any comorbidities. 


The future of APIs and patient communication in the NHS

As wonderful as the NHS is, its ecosystem is a messy and often inefficient mix of public sector services and private-sector innovators. A simplified and more structured environment is needed to improve the customer experience in citizen-facing apps, making it easier on patients when they need to book appointments, check test results, and manage prescriptions. 


The NHS could achieve this by reimbursing system providers for the development of relevant APIs. This would inspire the creation of digital workflows and integrations across healthcare organisations. By directly reimbursing system providers to open up APIs, great benefit will be felt not just in the realm of patient communication but in many different areas across healthcare.


Technology is often misjudged as being something that’s depersonalising – something that will remove the human element from patient care. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. As Olly explains, 


“With technology, we aim to relieve the burden on clinicians so they can spend more time with the patient. Human care is so important, and our aim is not to replace it but to enhance it by giving more information and a more efficient user experience.”

If you feel that a more effective user experience is something your business needs, please contact a member of the Alphalake team who will be happy to help you.

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