How digital technologies will reshape musculoskeletal healthcare
Will digital health deliver the Holy Grail of better results for patients and better value for health systems?
The technologies we have today, and those I see emerging from start-ups, are more than capable of changing musculoskeletal care. These digital tools contribute to the promise of value-based healthcare – improving patient outcomes while allowing greater cost-effectiveness. Digital health has to deliver both of these elements if it is to be adopted widely.
What kinds of technologies are you thinking of?
Think of rehabilitation after a knee or hip replacement. The six weeks after surgery are crucial to the patients’ quality of life after they recover. A major challenge, particularly in older patient populations, is patient compliance with physiotherapy.
One of the solutions is to use wearable devices with sensors that give biofeedback to patients on whether they are bending their knee correctly or whether their mobility has improved. It can become like a “game”, making them more likely to stick to exercising.
How else could technology improve rehabilitation without adding costs?
The major costs of rehab are performing physiotherapy at a clinic and then later at home. The strong increase in using mobile technology also among elderly patients means physiotherapy can be delivered remotely. The physio could, for example, programme exercises for the patient to do in their own time – and then review the data afterwards.
This helps each physiotherapist work more effectively with a larger number of patients – which is crucial as our population ages. In addition, further reducing length of stay in hospitals after joint replacement allows patients to return to their home surroundings earlier, where they feel comfortable. And this is potentially a win-win: patients could make fewer trips to the clinic and follow a programme conveniently at home, while health professionals become more productive.
What are the barriers to widespread adoption of these kinds of approaches?
It’s time for hospitals, suppliers and payers to discuss how this approach could bring benefits for patients and save costs for society and the system as a whole. A change in mindset is needed from all healthcare players. Digital technologies can play a role across the care continuum, potentially delivering better patient outcomes with greater cost-effectiveness particularly if combined with patient pathway optimization programs such as Rapid Recovery or Fast Track.
You can hear positive discussion about value-based healthcare at conferences every week of the year but siloed thinking is slowing down adoption of this approach.
Are there examples of how countries or regions are leading the way in this field?
Yes, the Nordic countries come to my mind as leaders in adopting digital health. As an example, more and more tenders encourage medical device companies to include programs and technologies that can improve patient outcomes and lower cost across the care pathway, beyond the actual product.
Where will the next generation of technologies come from in this field?
Leading companies across our industry are developing new digital tools either themselves or through collaboration with some of the large consumer electronic firms. But we also know that start-ups are a vital source of innovation. That is why we are running the Connected Health Innovation Award.
The €25,000 prize on offer to the winner is not the main attraction for entrepreneurs. They are keen on coaching and mentoring and testing their product in real-world settings and thus we are collaboration with some of the leading hospitals for orthopaedics in Europe.
The contest is open to any digital health start-up interested in improving outcomes and lower costs in musculoskeletal health. The beauty of it is that we have no idea what entrepreneurs will come up with and thus looking with large excitement into the future.
The closing date for applications to the Connected Health Innovation Award is June 15