By Dr. Nitendra Sesodia
With digital technologies driving unprecedented changes in the way healthcare services are delivered and received today in the country, at least in the big bustling cities and urban India, patient safety and patient education have emerged as critical basics for everyone in the delivery chain. And while patient safety would remain the overarching and non-negotiable objective for obvious reasons, patient education also constitutes a critical pillar of digital care management especially in light of the fact that digitization of healthcare is still underway and has not quite become universal and commonplace. However digitization of healthcare, if looked at differently, simultaneously offers avenues and scope for enhanced patient education. For instance, e-consent solutions, an integral component of the whole digitization journey, have been an important medium of educating patients before the latter opt for a surgical procedure. In a similar vein, patient safety too gets automatically covered under the e-consent solutions process. As such, patient safety and patient education mutually reinforce each other.
Why and how patient safety and patient education are the new basics of digitized health?
The astounding number of medical errors in India
A study carried out some years back by Harvard University has estimated that a whopping 5.2 million medical errors were committed in the country every year. While this occurred in the early stages of the Indian healthcare landscape undergoing digital transition, it indicates the enormity of the problem that we face even today. A related but again disturbing statistic is that nearly 1.6 million people died in a single year in India due to poor quality of care, and not insufficient access to care. All this data means that the ongoing healthcare digitization processes must account for patient safety unfailingly.
Digitization shores up patient safety
Although digitization of healthcare also throws up certain patient safety challenges, it also offers solutions for patient safety. In terms of challenges, insufficient training for practitioners and nursing attendants when faced with digital technologies while delivering care may put patient’s health and life at risk. Similarly, a surgeon not fully familiar with digital tools and technologies but still using them (due to some extraneous pressures such as meeting timelines or peer pressure etc) could possibly pose a risk to the patient he is performing surgery on. Yet, digital healthcare tools and solutions also add to patient safety. To illustrate, instead of the traditional paper-based consent documents, when hospitals and surgeons opt for e-consent solutions before going ahead with an intended surgical procedure on a patient, the legally enforced nature of the agreement ensures that the surgeon performs his best and with the best of intent on the given day thereby ruling out chances of errors and increasing patient safety. At the same time, the doctors also get sufficient legal protection given the complex and still unpredictable nature of the human body in many ways.
Patient safety becoming an integral part of healthcare workforce education and training
Importantly, digitization of healthcare has been coincident with the rising emphasis on patient safety in medical curricula and syllabi across medical schools and training centres in the country. The National Patient Safety Implementation Framework (NPSIF) 2018–2025 has identified one of its strategic objectives as ‘to ensure a competent and capable workforce that is aware and sensitive to patient safety’. Under this, not only knowledge of basic patient safety concepts is to be tested for medical, nursing and paramedical licensing exams but also the existing undergraduate and postgraduate level courses are to be revised keeping in mind the learning objectives for patient safety based on WHO patient safety curriculum guide.
Digitization also enhances patient education
At the same time, digitization of healthcare also increases the chances of emergence of a more informed and aware patient community in the country. Since the digital medium is a natural hub for information sharing and knowledge transfer about anything including medical and health issues, it goes without saying that it also facilitates learning for patients. Nonetheless, for a country such as India which not only has a high illiteracy rate but also high levels of health illiteracy in general especially given the huge population that there is, elevating levels of patient education remains a highly desirable goal. And one crucial juncture for patients and their relatives in their treatment journey is when they are advised to undergo surgical procedure. For a lay patient and his relatives, a walkthrough of the entire upcoming procedure spelling out in detail the pros and cons including the risks of not opting for a procedure or parts of a surgical procedure becomes extremely important. And here e-consent tools and solutions easily surpass the traditional paper-based consent formats by virtue of their being available in multiple formats including text, audio and video, images and graphics, their enduring nature leaving a digital track record for lifetime, and above all, the impeccable clarity of communication that they bring to patients. In other words, these tools impart a huge impetus to the cause of patient education.
Therefore, as all-round digitization of healthcare increasingly catches on, patient safety and patient education as critical basics would prove to be the perfect propellant for this digitization to succeed in the coming times.
(The author is a Senior Director, Medical Communication & Corporate Sales, Thieme. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)