Frontline workers, they are magnificent

‘As a whole, I think the healthcare sector has risen to the challenge“ says Owen O’Doherty, CEO of carefolk.com

21st October, 2020
Frontline workers, they are magnificent

What's your name and what position do you hold?

Owen O’Doherty, CEO of carefolk.com

What are your day to day responsibilities?

I am very fortunate. I get to work with very smart and dedicated people at Carefolk every day building next generation technology for multidisciplinary integrated care teams delivering community-based care. A big part of that is delivering our patient support platform for patients and their families, an extremely important mission in current times.

Maintaining the very highest standards in customer support and collaboration is our primary focus. From that my main responsibilities are derived: recruiting the right people, articulating a common vision, supporting them, growth, and maintenance of a laser-like common focus on product quality.

What is your professional background?

I have quite a mixed professional background.

In a former life, I used to work in management in financial services, leading a lot of change management and modernisation projects, including technology change projects, and risk and compliance.

It wasn’t my calling however. My passion was really product design and development. I moved into software development and worked for a Fortune 500 company in the US and remotely back here in Ireland.

I have a first-class honours degree in Business Information Systems from University College Cork.

I knew I was destined to follow my own path. Carefolk was founded in 2015. Since then we have gone from strength to strength, winning multiple awards along the way, and developing a user base throughout the world. Our products drive the transition to a community-based model of care delivery, and deliver much better health outcomes.

For the last two years, in addition to my responsibilities at Carefolk, I have also lectured part time for a couple of hours per week to masters classes in Business Information Systems & Analytics, Design & Development of Digital Business, and IS for Business Performance, in UCC. This has been great in that I get to meet the next generation of talented up and comers, and it allows me to keep a finger on the pulse of innovation.

I have found that the mixture in skillset and experience I have gained over the years has played a big part in my current role at Carefolk.

How do you think the healthcare sector is coping with the Covid-19 crisis?

I have seen first-hand the level of effort and commitment by frontline workers in responding to the challenge, and I must say, they are magnificent. Behind those frontline workers of course, throughout the Health Service there are teams and individuals doing great work in many areas supporting the frontline workers and patient care.

As a whole, I think the healthcare sector has risen to the challenge. Times of great upheaval and urgency tend to bind people together around a common purpose. Of course, in the Health Service generally, some mistakes will have been made in response to the crisis; that is inevitable. That’s good however. That means that decisions and progress is being made.

What is important now is that the pace of change that has been lit is not lost, particularly around the adoption of innovation and the acceptance of technology as being the catalyst for delivering new care pathways that deliver better health outcomes that are more economical and relieve the stress on our acute system. There can be no ‘return to the old way of doing business’.

What lasting impact do you see on healthcare delivery?

There will be several lasting impacts.

The first, from a healthcare delivery perspective, is that there is acceleration in the transition to integrated care.

Integrated care refers to breaking the traditional silos (real and information sharing) between the traditional pillars of care provision - acute, primary, community, family - and delivering better care and an alternative care pathway through multidisciplinary teams and community hubs. It is designed to better use resources and keep people healthier, happier and cared for in the community.

Before Covid19 appeared, there were existing global trends, changing demographics for example, that already ensured that a new model of care delivery was needed. In Ireland, for example, the ERSI reported in 2017 that the number of people over the age of 85 is set to double in the next 15 years.

This is great. It is a measure of success. However, the demographic shift occurring also presents a sharp upward curve in those living with chronic co-morbid or multimorbid illness, and an unsustainable increase in demand on the acute system, which is already overstretched at peak times in the year.

Integrated community-based care offers a much better and more economical way of doing things, and keeps the patient at the centre of care delivery.

In Ireland, the HSE was already doing great work on this, and it forms part of the Sláintecare implementation plan also.

What Covid19 has done however, is really prove out the benefits and cemented the case for the acceleration of the wider implementation of this model of care and the creation of community hubs, which will be to the benefit of everyone.

That cannot happen without digitally enabled remote patient management and support.

The second lasting impact is that Covid19 crisis has opened the door, as well as hearts and minds, to the realisation that adoption of digital health technology, in its various forms, is the answer to the a lot of the pressing problems that have been affecting the health sector for years, and is the foundation on which the further sustainability and vision for the Health Sector will be realised. It cannot be realised without it. That accelerated adoption rate needs to be maintained, with fluid processes in place for approval and roll-out.

How do you see tech innovation transforming healthcare? What do you think will be the major breakthroughs over the next 5–10 years?

Innovation occurs at the vanguard of advancements in technology applied to pressing problems and patterns in consumer or organisational behaviour.

If you want to understand where tech innovation will transform healthcare over the next 5-10 years, you need first to take a step back, study the major problems in Healthcare and examine over-arching trends in population and consumer behaviour.

Health economics, and just plan economics, will drive a great transition to value based care (reimbursement based on quality of care and health outcomes) in the major markets over the next 5 to 10 years, which will be followed by smaller markets. Indeed, there is an opportunity for smaller markets to be a leader on this front.

With reimbursement models based on quality of health outcomes, value-based care requires making better and earlier decisions on health intervention for patients. It means, where possible, making proactive interventions on a person’s health journey, rather than reacting to events, as is primarily the case at present. It also means delivering patient centred care in the home.

Integrated care and patient centred care of course will play a big part in this, and technology will be central.

A confluence of technologies will make that happen.

A central care hub and operating system for delivering integrated care and patient support, such as we have developed at Carefolk. Real time data securely available to clinicians and support workers at the point of care. Advancements in sensor technology capturing data and delivering ongoing health ‘check-ups’ and assessments to the patient in the home based on health data science and machine learning and AI, as well as delivering clinical decision support. Virtual care pathways that automate and optimise a patient’s journey through the Health system ensuring hospitals are the absolute last place of referral, and not the first. Advancements in robotics delivering critical services.

What do you think are the key challenges are in the digital transformation of the health service?

The key challenges are not technological ones.

They are primarily cultural and funding ones. Culturally around acceptance of innovation and the perception of the risk in same, and funding, in that the funding model for digital health, in terms of approval, procurement, and unit cost allocation needs to be streamlined and changed. There is progress being made on this front, but it is slow, and needs to be accelerated if transformation in the Health Service is to occur. Some of that is regularity.

Within the Health Service as well, there needs to be a shift to a mindset that the allocation of funding to digital technology has an ROI that is exponentially higher than trying to solve the problem at the end of the funnel, which is staffing the problem in the acute system.

The use of the Carefolk platform for example has resulted in clinical teams using it assessing 3x the numbers of patients using greatly improved process flows, with better decision making and information sharing around one shared care record.

In Ireland, there has an increase in the recent Budget for recruitment in the Health Service, with is right and correct. But imagine also the impact of releasing the massive untapped potential that already exists by simply giving teams the tailored tools they need. It is a fraction of the cost, and results in better health outcomes, as well as team moral and teamwork.

What will be the leading trends in healthcare in the coming years and how will patients and providers need to adapt?

The big push will be toward technology supported care in the home that delivers early interventionist care and manages the patient’s health journey proactively. This will be supported by technology supported clinical decision making and remotely delivered care.

Placing the patient at the centre of care and giving them the right information and tools for self-support when they need will be crucial to that. We have developed a next generation platform for supporting this use case that integrates fluidly with our integrated care platform.

AI and automation are going to be play a crucial part in all of this, as will sensor technology and wearables providing remote monitoring.

As we look a little further down the path, advancements in these technologies coupled with greater understanding of the human genome, genetics, and bio markers, will allow the delivery of personalised care to an individual based on genetic risk factors specific to them. There is already really exciting work being done in this area.

The future health of humankind is bright.

Owen will be speaking at the 2020 virtual Smart Health Summit on October 22

For more details see www.smarthealthsummit.ie

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