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China Embracing Connected Health

By Geoff Feakes, Group CIO, Tunstall Healthcare

Geoff Feakes, Group CIO, Tunstall Healthcare

With almost 1.4 billion people, and an increasingly ageing population, China’s healthcare services are facing an enormous challenge. It is estimated that in the next 30 years, the proportion of China’s population over 65 will rise to almost 500 million people, or around 25 per cent of the population.

Since 1980, the combination of increased female workforce participation and the one child policy have reduced birth rates and lead to pronounced demographic imbalances, particularly within urban centers. The Chinese government has recognized these imbalances, and beginning January 2016 has officially shifted to a two child policy. This change has been stated as an “active response to an ageing population.” While it remains to be seen if this change in policy will help address the challenges of an ageing population, it does indicate that the government is ready and willing to tackle these challenges.

"The Crucial Element Of Any Successful Connected Healthcare System Is The Support Provided By Care Teams And Clinicians"

One urban center particularly focused on improving aged and healthcare is Qingdao, a coastal city in north-east China, close to Beijing and the Korean peninsula. It is one of China’s largest and most prosperous cities, with a population of around 9 million people. Qingdao represents a modern, affluent China, which embraces innovation and demands the best goods and services, including their citizen’s healthcare.

There is a strong family culture within China which values the care of elderly relatives at home, alongside stated government policies which prioritize aged care within the home. This may come under increased pressure as middle-income couples care for two sets of grandparents as well as their own children.

The government of China delivers healthcare to hundreds of millions of people every day, including traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine healthcare, and will always be looking to improve efficiencies in primary care and prevention.

Connected healthcare can help automate diagnostics and streamline care within clinical settings, allowing specialists to priorities more effectively, and community healthcare and community hospitals to provide improved healthcare services.

Outside of traditional healthcare institutions, there is also a great opportunity for innovative healthcare solutions. As the economy and lifestyles within China continue to modernize, healthcare delivery is also becoming increasingly personalized, shifting away from centralized government programs towards more tailored, patient-focused solutions.

The result of this is an increasing demand for healthcare solutions that are efficient, affordable, and effective in managing health outside of clinical settings.

Partnering with local companies can help bring together external specialization and local knowledge, and successfully implement connected health within the Chinese market. From this, a gradual expansion into the healthcare market will ultimately help reduce hospital admissions, provide more community health services and improve patient outcomes.

Connected health should bring together traditional and innovative healthcare services, tailored to patients’ care requirements. Successfully implemented connected health also gives clinicians a way to remotely and securely manage health and vital sign information for patients, and manage trends and alerts based on individualized care plans.

With an individualized connected health package, patients can record and monitor their vital signs at home, with remote contact from their care team as needed. Various medical peripherals can be used within the home, ranging from thermometers and weight scales, to glucometers and ECGs, all providing patients and clinicians with a more complete picture of the health and well-being of the patient.

The crucial element of any successful connected healthcare system is the support provided by care teams and clinicians. With appropriate patient management software, health data from the patient can be monitored, processed, and reviewed remotely. Clinicians can conduct regular remote check-ups via video, or respond accordingly to deviations in individual health parameters.

Looking further ahead, thanks to the expansion of IoT, we’ll begin to see further integration of health and lifestyle monitoring, giving us a fuller picture of people’s health. Imagine the future possibilities, with a fridge which recognizes your dietary habits, shoes that assess your mobility, even a toilet that can measure glucose within urine. All these factors could give clinicians an extremely accurate overview of a person’s lifestyle, underlying conditions and risk factors. By establishing this overview and successfully identifying risks, care advice and treatment can be provided before more drastic medical intervention is required.

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