As New Zealand’s health system faces a GP shortage and the increasing burden of chronic disease, answers are needed to cope with future demands on the health system.
Melon Health founder and chief executive Siobhan Bulfin believes that one answer is by helping more people to self-manage their care.
Self-management goes online
Over the past five years, Melon Health has developed a range of digital ‘chronic disease management programmes’.
These incorporate a range of online tools, such as one-on-one coaching, a secure social network, health tracking, self-management modules and tools to help patients manage their physical and emotional wellbeing.
Ms Bulfin says everything the company does is centred around the consumer.
“Our products are the result of five years of user-driven design based on consumer feedback. We see that as the right way we should be developing anything,” she says.
The company talks to users, notes what they are doing on the platform and asks how it can be improved.
“You need constant interaction with the users and to offer them multiple ways to give feedback and engage with you,” Bulfin says
The courage to change
While demand from users and feedback has been encouraging, getting the programmes integrated with primary care has not been an easy journey.
Bulfin says the current barriers to adoption of innovative digital health solutions are similar to those she encountered five years ago.
Lack of funding and resistance to change from healthcare organisations is a significant issue. In some cases, change is just too hard to contemplate and providers have many competing priorities.
“To get around that you need to be providing a solution to a real problem and have a champion at the executive level who sees value in it, then you can introduce it to other levels of the organisation,” she explains.
She says it’s important to put yourself in the customers shoes and then ask: “is the pain of change worse than the pain of doing the same?”
Ms Bulfin adds that it is helpful that there is now a lot more evidence and research supporting the efficacy of digital health tools when it comes to self-management whether it be managing physical or mental health issues.
“People are more receptive because there’s more awareness of digital health tools and medical professionals are seeing the potential to extend their care beyond the physical setting and reduce the demands on their time.”
Funding models of care
Ms Bulfin says there can be some tension with the introduction of digital self-management tools because New Zealand primary care is predominantly a fee-for-service model.
“While healthcare providers genuinely want to help their patients, they are businesses and their revenue comes from patients coming through their door. A shift towards more value based care with some of the funding outcomes based, would incentivise providers to focus more on self-management,” she says.
Ms Bulfin suggests there is an opportunity for technology companies and health care providers to work together on exploring new innovations.