Q: You mentioned the role of technology in assisting healthcare professionals. What other opportunities do you see for technology to make healthcare a more attractive field to work in?
A: We have seen quite a few successful initiatives in Poland to digitalize healthcare and facilitate the exchange of medical information. We are actually the country where the most prescriptions now take place electronically, partly owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, electronic referrals have stimulated a move towards better care coordination.
We have also seen spectacular developments in robotic surgery in Poland. Robots are not replacing surgeons, but augmenting their skills – for example, by reducing human imperfections in hand precision. For that same reason, I am a big enthusiast of voice recognition technology. Again, it will not replace the role of the physician, but it will augment their skills and make their work more attractive. Speaking as a physician: my goal is to spend the least amount of time on inputting data into a computer, and to spend as much time as I can on examining and performing procedures, and on talking to the patient and their family. I would love for voice recognition technology to automatically transcribe conversations with patients and capture all relevant information in the EMR, so that I do not need to perform this manually. This could make a big difference for senior staff members in a hospital as well, because manual data entry via a keyboard may be particularly cumbersone for them.
Q: Do you also see a role for technology in connecting doctors in urban hospitals to county hospitals, where specialist staff may be in short supply?
A: Yes, absolutely. We can take inspiration from the US, where we have seen the rise of virtual hospitals and remote care management. Instead of staffing an entire hospital with subspecialty physicians, we could have general physicians or hospitalists who manage patient care and who consult specialized physicians in other locations when needed. Sometimes a virtual consultation may be sufficient, and sometimes the subspecialty physician may need to come in to perform a procedure on site. Eventually we may have physicians who are either hospitalists or proceduralists.
Similarly, I foresee the development of more applications that will help doctors collaborate virtually. For example, in oncology, we have multi-disciplinary tumor board meetings which are mandatory for the assessment of patients with a new diagnosis of cancer. Thanks to modern technology, we can now connect and review a case without everyone having to be in the same room. And as a result of the pandemic, patients have also become familiar with telemedicine – which is important, because you need patient acceptance of these new technologies as well.
Q: You alluded to the importance of collaboration across the healthcare ecosystem. What does successful collaboration look like to you, and how is the Polish Hospital Federation supporting it?
A: As I mentioned, the key challenge lies with the coordination of care, to create optimal value for patients throughout their care journey. This should be our ultimate goal, and it is a big focus for the Polish Hospital Federation and our partners. We are supporting the development of coordinated care to create better collaboration across the entire cycle of patient care. For example, patients who suffer a heart attack are now being taken care of by different providers working together in a coordinated care system. We have recently also established a national oncology network in Poland. And Poland is now stepping up with coordinated care programs in primary care, where patients are assigned a care coordinator who assists them throughout their care journey. So, I think these are all steps in the right direction.
Ultimately, we are a big proponent of value-based care. I do not think anyone in the world has been able to introduce this at full scale, but I believe there is really no better model. We have proposed that Poland moves towards value-based care by organizing coordinated care consortia that would be competing based on care outcomes. Optimal results can only be achieved if healthcare providers cover the entire cycle of patient care. That would also help us apply a proper amount of staffing and resources to each segment of healthcare. As a result, instead of different providers competing with each other based on the prices of their services, we would have coordinated care consortia competing for the value they provide to their patients as well as their staff.
Closer collaboration within the healthcare system is really going to be essential. That is why, at the Polish Hospital Federation, we work with many different stakeholders, including hospital decision makers, government bodies, trade unions, producers of medical equipment, start-ups, and educational partners. I believe international cooperation is also very important, which is why we value ongoing dialogue and knowledge exchange through the European Hospital Federation and the International Hospital Federation. By creating opportunities for networking and education, we can all learn from each other and find new solutions for alleviating staffing shortages.
This conversation has been edited for flow and clarity.