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The pivotal role of digital technologies to achieve optimal patient outcomes

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Prof (Dr) Mahesh Verma, Vice Chancellor, GGS Indraprastha University, New Delhi points out that with WHO initiating the third Global Patient Safety Challenge to reduce severe and avoidable medication-related harm by 50 per cent, it is critical to acknowledge how digital technological innovations like Clinical Decision Support (CDS) platforms are rendering innovative diagnostic and therapeutic solutions enabling better and quality patient care, especially during the trying times of COVID-19

At some point in their life, every person around the world has taken medicines that have given them respite from their illness. However, when medicines are taken incorrectly due to a clinical error, it can leave a long-term and adverse impact on patient safety. We are living in an era when medication errors cost US$ 42 billion globally. As per a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Patients living in low-income countries experience twice as many disability-adjusted life years lost due to medication-related harm than those in high-income countries.”

We know that clinical decision-making is a taxing procedure that entails memorising and recalling vast amounts of medical data of umpteen number of disease profiles. Medical professionals often see the information, but they may get confused at the time of decision-making. Here, digital technologies bridge this gap by presenting precise and refined information to clinicians that help them deliver quality patient care.

The increase in disease profiles and the plethora of online data demand a platform that provides reliable and filtered information. Additionally, as the pandemic has posed unique challenges for the healthcare industry, having a database with different treatment types used for communicable and non-communicable diseases is the need of the hour. Considering this, digital tools Clinical Decision Support (CDS) platforms are rendering innovative diagnostic and therapeutic solutions to doctors to deliver better and quality patient care.

Treating patients with digital technologies that matter

CDS systems have features that enable doctors to work on personalised treatment as per the patient’s medical condition. For example, finding the right healthcare solution for a pregnant woman who has contracted coronavirus or COVID-19 patients with underlying health conditions and analysing the effectiveness of plasma therapy and antivirals on them. Therefore, all hospitals should have CDS systems that can provide clinicians, patients and caregivers with precise information verified by doctors with years of experience.

We also have Computerised Physician Order Entry (CPOE) applications through which medical professionals can send treatment instructions to patients. Since most clinical errors occur at the prescribing step, CPOE can provide patient-specific decision support to improve clinical efficacies. These platforms reduce errors and improve patient safety and clinical effectiveness. Other platforms that reduce clinical errors are Pharmacy dispensing systems, electronic medication reconciliation and personal health records.

Digital technologies improve patient care by eliminating clinical errors or adverse events. According to the WHO, in certain clinical circumstances (such as with patients in hospital), the impact of medication errors is greater. This may be attributed to the more seriousness and complication of certain diseases and the use of more complex medication regimes. Medication errors involved in young children and the elderly often entail administering the wrong therapeutic route, administering wrong doses, and a failure if the patient does not follow the prescribed treatment. The way to address this issue is by understanding the patient’s profile and accessing platforms such as CDS systems that will show evidence regarding the higher risk of harm from a particular medication, enhancing clinical efficacies.

In cases where the patient requires several medicines to recover, the medication should be utilised optimally, to ensure that they give measurable and direct benefits with minimal side effects. The standardisation of procedures, policies and protocols is critical to efficient patient care, which is what digital platforms provide. They have a set of protocols that need to be followed by healthcare professionals in critical situations. From initial prescribing practices at the point of patient care to regular medication reviews, doctors have every information available on one click.

Doctors play a vital part in saving millions of lives if provided with the right tools, information, and resources as it helps them to make informed decisions. A well-maintained database is vital, including a formal comparison of medicines before and aftercare. Digital technologies can be valuable in this process by maintaining a current medicine list updated by experts when any medicine changes occur.

The way forward

Fortunately, today, the WHO is initiating the third Global Patient Safety Challenge to reduce severe and avoidable medication-related harm by 50 per cent, mainly by addressing clinical errors resulting from unsafe medical practices due to weak health systems. It is critical to acknowledge that digital technological innovations are redefining healthcare and providing quality treatment to all during the trying times of COVID-19.

The National Digital Health Mission launched by the Indian government in 2019 is anticipated to bring an ecosystem that will encourage universal health coverage and a digital revolution for the healthcare industry. As in the post-pandemic world, such platforms will transform how patient care is delivered, prioritising technologies that matter to ensure smarter care and support several clinical needs, is the way forward. And using digital platforms is not merely a way to get rid of paper records, but it is more about adopting a patient-centric approach.

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