Why healthcare needs a digital health hub

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Author: Nir Altman, Co-founder and CEO, Equiva

Note: This is part one of a two-part blog post. Watch for the second post coming soon!

A quick Google search of the term “digital health hub” yields top results of links to government, association and/or nonprofit organizations that promote knowledge and skills sharing across healthcare, academia and business. Some hubs serve as work and meeting spaces. Some are virtual communities. Some act as innovation accelerators.

In an article published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization (August 1, 2020,) researchers at the University of Adelaide describe the concept of a web-based personal digital health “hub” for integrated patient care and highlight the implementation of such a hub around a cohort of patients with hip fractures.

This is a far different use of the term “hub,” than the aforementioned – and a very exciting concept to consider.

Aussies make headway

Based on input from clinicians, non-clinical experts and patients at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, the team designed a digital health hub “to improve education, service integration, data exchange and engagement of all stakeholders including patients and healthcare providers,” structuring the web-based platform to provide information related to health issues under four key sections:

  • current concerns (for example, a hip fracture)
  • essential wellness (nutrition, exercise, sleep and mind)
  • community health (hygiene, contagious diseases)
  • past health

The team designed the hub to “support a lifelong approach to healthy aging through lifestyle approaches, while addressing injuries or illnesses as they arise.”

Research showed that the elderly patient cohort and their carers (caregivers) had significant capacity to access digital health solutions. Some of the project’s highlights:

  • Train nurses or other health-care workers to fulfill roles of a fracture liaison coordinator, an online educator and a facilitator of behavioral change.
  • Make a range of quality, evidence-based educational resources available in a variety of digital formats to address individual educational needs (in partnership with patient and consumer groups.)
  • Provide a calendar with reminder functionality for scheduling and managing follow-up tasks.
  • Share further communications via email, text message, telephone, video conference or face-to-face appointments.
  • Track patient engagement using multiple metrics, such as time spent in specific areas of the health hub or communication exchanges, tasks completed, etc. 

Focusing on patient and caregiver needs

The team describes the creation of digital health hubs centered on patients’ and carers’ need. “The health hub could allow important advances and efficiencies to be achieved in workforce practice and education; patient and care engagement in self-care; and the collection of patient-reported health data required for ongoing research and improvements in health care,” they write.

In introducing their work, the researchers state this: “By viewing multimorbidity as a person-centered concept we acknowledge that the impact of a condition is influenced not only by health-related characteristics but also by socioeconomic, cultural and environmental factors, as well as patient behavior. Addressing these complex and often interacting biopsychosocial factors therefore requires a shift in treatment for multimorbidities from a physical damage model towards person-centered integrated care with increased patient agency. Such a model allows patients to have greater responsibility for and control over the management of their care.”

Person-centered care, patient agency and health equity

In our work over the past decade with customers across many leading health systems, we’ve had a significant increase in requests for new solutions and software functionality to support a blended model of person-centered care with increased patient agency and behavior change. Healthcare organizations (HCOs) are also squarely focused on opportunities to advance health equity by identifying and addressing socioeconomic, cultural and environmental factors.  A health hub approach can bring significant value in these areas. More robust capture and analysis of patient- and caregiver-reported data, especially from home environments, will fuel advances in these areas.

Thank you for reading part one of this two-part blog post. Watch for the second post coming soon where I’ll diver deeper into the work of these researchers and the exciting possibilities of a digital heath hub.

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