Guest post by Sid Nair, vice president and global general manager, Dell Services Healthcare & Life Sciences.
If you’ve ever watched a person go through the first stages of coping with type 2 diabetes – and with the disease at epidemic levels, many of us have a close friend or relative with the disease – you’ve seen them struggle to put into practice all the information, advice and strategies they are given.
This is true of most people with newly diagnosed chronic diseases, not just diabetes. To avoid complications, and the huge costs in both suffering and money that come with them, they have to learn a new way of living. Medication and other treatments can’t take the place of lifestyle changes. And despite their best efforts, many people are defeated by the challenge.
We now spend 70 percent of our healthcare dollars on chronic disease care, much of it to treat complications that lifestyle changes could avert. All that money isn’t really helping. People continue to suffer and to lose years of productive life. If we could find a way to help these people improve their health, we could dramatically reduce both suffering and costs.
Chronic disease patients need tech support
One thing we’ve learned here at Dell is that in helping hospitals implement an electronic health record (EMR), at-the-elbow tech support makes a big difference. And learning to use a new EMR has many of the same challenges as learning to live with diabetes.
To go live with a new EMR, doctors and nurses have to learn a new way of working. It’s more than just a software change. It’s changing everyday habits that have kept the operation running for years. That’s why it is crucial to have someone to guide the caregivers through the first days and weeks. The right support lowers users’ frustration, increases their confidence and makes the difference between a quick, smooth transition and a drawn-out, rocky transition.
That kind of tech support could also help patients with diabetes and other chronic diseases learn a new set of habits. For diabetics, even a simple thing like breakfast can be a challenge. If you can’t pick up your usual donut, what’s the alternative? Friendships can be harder. “No, sorry, I can’t go to happy hour for chips and a margarita,” isn’t what your friends want to hear. Add in blood sugar checks, medication and a new exercise routine, and it can be overwhelming. None of it is fun, and all of it distances you from friends and daily comforts.
Diabetes education classes can help, just as training classes for doctors and nurses can help them learn a new EMR. But patients also need the same at-the-elbow tech support for their new life that caregivers need for their new EMR. They need a knowledgeable, friendly healthcare tech support agent who can suggest a happy hour walk with your friends or what to drink instead of a sugar-loaded margarita. Or tell you about a healthy breakfast sandwich that is right on your way to work. Or how to tell your mom that you won’t be eating her famous pancakes at Sunday brunch. Someone to boost your confidence and make you feel like you can succeed at this new life.
New technology makes at-the-elbow support possible for patients
Sadly, most of patients are pretty much on their own. The result is confusion, loss of confidence and a sense that it is all just too hard. And that means expensive complications and more suffering.
The good news is that new telehealth technology can bring at-the-elbow support to patients at home, at a price that is affordable. While support can’t be literally at a patient’s elbow, secure video conferencing can give patients access to doctors, nurses and health coaches who can answer questions, give advice on medications, food, exercise and how to lose the unhealthy foods without losing the relationships that are tied to them. And most patients already have the technology needed – a smartphone, tablet or computer.