The new era of ‘pCRM’

This month, several passionate digital strategists convened on Brighton – in spite of the looming and blustering tail of Hurricane Irene blowing in hard from the south of England.

My colleague Marie-Claire Wilson has commented on the day itself, however a highlight for me was my lunch-break conversation with Miguel Tovar, a pharmacist and consultant based in Barcelona.

Amongst other interesting topics relating to the Spanish pharmaceutical industry, he introduced me to a fascinating program from the Hospital Clínic of Barcelona, which is pioneering a use of telemedicine to care for several hundred HIV-infected patients.

“Hospital VIHrtual” is a tool that uses a webcam to provide virtual consultations in support of traditional in-person visits. This virtual hospital service adds a layer of control and convenience for patients, and means opportunities for regular communication are not limited by diary conflicts or travel considerations.

With increasing pressure on national health systems, governments the world over are seeking to cut costs and improve efficiency, yet it would seem that some of the most basic technological capabilities are as yet not effectively utilised by so many countries. Whereas examples such as “Hospital VIHrtual” show the significant difference that strategically applied communication tools can make to patient care, and wellbeing.

Importantly, Barcelona’s virtual hospital has reduced the duration of a consultation (and the space required) from 20 minutes to 10 minutes. There are also fewer people involved in managing the relationship, which ensures efficient care and improved adherence.

From a patient perspective, there is less of a requirement to invest time or money in frequent trips to a physical location – with the exception of analytical extraction, reducing the number of visits by up to 50%. More information about the online services can be found here.

Patients with chronic (but stable) conditions located throughout world could easily benefit from similar virtual care programs.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, the Mayo Clinic has also piloted virtual care schemes which in a similar way help to reduce ‘wasted’ time in first consultations where the same basic questions are asked by every new patient. Using video frequently asked questions (FAQs), the centre seeks to improve patient outcomes by ensuring actual face-to-face consultant time is focused on the unique characteristics of the individual patient in their journey, rather than elementary information that can easily be disseminated via pre-visit communication.

Another scheme which is disrupting the traditional model of care is AmericanWell’s platform for managing the complete care cycle. Patients can find a provider, have a virtual consultation, and share information via Microsoft’s HealthVault electronic medical record portal. For healthcare professionals they can improve the efficiency of their own available consultant time by also using an online planner to connect with patients.

With various organisations now seeing the benefits of introducing even the simplest telemedicine solutions for virtual care, we are entering an age of what I call ‘pCRM’ – that is ‘Patient Customer Relationship Management’. Although there are inevitable challenges for each country around data and privacy considerations, there is no question that our current model for care is terribly inefficient for both patients and providers.

Tailored communication prior to a consultation can improve the outcome of the visit, reduce the number of staff required to administer the patient-healthcare professional relationship, and most importantly for tax-payers, governments and health insurers; reduce the cost of care.

How will pCRM change your role in patient care?

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