Nearly 10 million people live in rural locations in England – areas that make up as much as 85% of the country. But despite these large numbers, outside our cities access to healthcare is scarce. Current digital health-related services create a visible gap between rural and urban areas, as key issues like low availability of high speed broadband, older demographics and unstable mobile phone networks remain unanswered.
The government’s most recent research shows rural equals healthier, with longer life expectancy and lower number of premature deaths compared to cities. But despite these positives there is also a growing understanding that vast healthcare deprivation is the norm. The rural population is getting older, and in strong need of healthcare and pharma solutions to support their needs – regardless of overall life expectancy statistics. These communities have limited access to healthcare professionals – and with an aging population and a large number of people with long-standing illnesses or disabilities, it’s those who can’t easily leave home and travel long distances for healthcare that suffer most. Because expert advice is harder to come by, symptoms can go undetected for long periods of time, significantly affecting not only a patient’s overall health, but also contributing to much higher healthcare costs because of the need for advanced treatment.
There’s still a long way to go before the digital industry successfully solves the key issues for rural communities, but progress is now being made. Effective patient monitoring, health data tracking for those at highest risk and medication intake support are a priority, with a number of companies now engaging in digital transformation to reinvent the patient experience:
Medipense’s RxPense is a voice-enabled and password-protected IoT connected pill dispenser to support seniors and those with chronic long-term disease in taking their medication. The device sends reminders across a number of platforms, dispenses the correct dosage and monitors medication intake by sending real-time missed dose information to relatives and medical specialists. Solutions like RXPense have a potential to bring real change, reducing the likelihood of overdose, aiding medication adherence, and enabling informed dosage adjustments based on real-time patient data.
There are several ways in which telemedicine can aid patient support. Enabling patients to receive expert healthcare advice without the need to leave home is the major benefit of mobile-enabled healthcare. Moreover, medical information can be sent from a patient’s GP to a remote doctor, ensuring informed diagnosis despite long distance. There is also a potential to form discussion groups to help patients find support in people suffering from similar illnesses.
In recent years, we’ve seen an uptake of IT and telecom solutions to provide patients with long-distance clinical health care that’s not always easily available in distant rural communities. Data collection devices can be used to monitor health indicators and remotely transmit and store data to enlarge patients’ medical dataset. This remote healthcare support is pioneered by Babylon, who provide expert healthcare assistance via various digital touchpoints (e.g. video calls) and are now considering potential expansion to build AI-based solutions.
AI in healthcare
With 82% of healthcare organisations fully integrating their mobile strategy, it should be increasingly possible for people in rural areas to access AI via mobile.Mobile apps are now the most prominent tool for mHealth, and it’s not long until AI will become an integral part of a variety of digital solutions. And the potential is big – enhanced data collection translates into a more accurate diagnosis, making healthcare-on-the-go proposition much more viable. A few companies are already utilising AI to boost patient experiences, including Florence – a chatbot that works on Facebook messenger, Skype or kik. It can show the nearest pharmacy, book appointments, track personal health information such as body weight, and send medication reminders. But there’s considerable potential to do more – Your.MD is an AI-enabled symptom checker that accurately suggests a diagnosis based on a detailed set of smart questions. Sense.ly goes a step further by utilising voice tech and delivering an even more personal and approachable experience – one that already creates high excitement among users and enthusiasts of voice technology. While AI can’t replace real doctors, it can help patients deal with minor illnesses and injuries, suggesting relevant medication that doesn’t require a prescription, and saving massive amounts of time – both for patients and for doctors.
Rural areas and the millions of people who live in them have their own special challenges when it comes to accessing and receiving healthcare. Slow broadband and unreliable mobile networks remain an issue and there’s still a long way to go before the digital industry can fully revolutionise patient experience in rural communities. The good news is that recent digital developments show that a number of players in pharma and healthcare are making a very positive start, and once the problem of infrastructure is solved, they’ll be ready and waiting.
If you’re interested to know more about how digital can approach medication non-adherence and help create a lasting behavioural change, here is a great article from our CX consultant Max Crichton.