Empowering patients to take control of their own health and placing them at the centre of the system is a great opportunity for the transformation of healthcare, likewise in Poland. Why is this so important? Today’s healthcare systems are made of silos: information does not usually follow the patient and is mostly dependent on occasional face-to-face meetings. By making better use of new and existing technologies, data, digitalization, and connected care, healthcare models will develop that support continuous care and health management, instead of instance-driven disease management. However, health management without an informed and engaged patient will be less effective.

The role of active patients as a key to prevent and manage diseases

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet with many local healthcare stakeholders across Central and Eastern Europe travelling from country to country and discussing the main local challenges in healthcare today. One important remedy, that may over time result in the relief of the currently overloaded system, is to put significantly more focus on early detection, moving from treatment to prevention.

With AI technology and predictive insights provided by increasingly large and comprehensive data sets from multiple sources such as GPs, specialists and individuals, prevention can play a much more important role than was previously possible. Today, wearables already provide us with advice on healthy living, activity, and sleep. The knowledge that people who sleep 5 hours a day have a risk of developing heart disease over 80% higher than those sleeping 8 hours raises awareness of the consequences when our devices inform us that we are getting too little sleep. If the entire population implements available health monitoring solutions and has the key metrics controlled in real time by healthcare professionals and continuously analysed by AI, we will already be one step closer to the future of healthcare.

Decreasing the burden of disease management in healthcare while focusing more on prevention seems to be an attractive scenario; even more so in the face of global challenges such as an aging population and the attendant increase of chronic diseases. According to the World Health Organization, by 2020 the number of people aged 60 and over will outnumber children under 5. Already, there are 125 million people in the world aged 80 and more. Active participation in the monitoring and treatment process is crucial for this group.

Digitalization. Are we ready?

In Poland, according to the Future Health Index, as many as 82% of the general population, who have no access to medical data, want to have it; this is well above the average of the 15 countries surveyed. Moreover, two-thirds of people with access to their medical data declare that they would like their healthcare professional to have such access too. Even elderly patients appreciate increasingly digital healthcare technologies. The report “E-health in the Eyes of Poles” shows that almost 70% of people over 60 in Poland say that the development of telemedicine will have a positive impact on social life. Once again, studying the Future Health Index, we see that healthcare professionals indicate that access to electronic medical data will positively increase their work satisfaction, the quality of care, and patient outcomes.

Of course, there are areas where healthcare professionals in Poland are hesitant to adopt new technologies, for instance using AI to improve the accuracy of diagnosis, developing treatment plans, or flagging anomalies. This will doubtless change over time when more experience is gained using AI to support HCPs in their day-to-day activities.

There is a clear opportunity in the Polish system to dramatically increase the electronic sharing of patient information with other healthcare professionals across health facilities, since only 11% of HCPs are currently able do this. The main barriers are the lack of access to data sharing systems and the lack of interoperability.

Poland on its way to a digital future

In the McKinsey report “The Rise of Digital Challengers” CEE countries, including Poland, are portrayed as “Digital Challengers”, based on their strong potential for growth in the digital field and their ability to emulate such “Digital Frontrunners” as the Netherlands, Norway, or Sweden.

With digitalization earmarked as one of the main priorities for local government, Poland has a good foundation to make this happen. By moving healthcare to a value-based model, but also with a significant digital step-up, achieved by the implementation of the Internet Patient’s Account, e-prescriptions and e-referrals, Poland is heading decisively towards tomorrow’s healthcare.

How far along is Poland? The country is certainly well under way, with care increasingly organized around the patient and a strong eagerness to apply the latest technologies to make a great leap forward. By embracing the willingness of patients to adopt digital solutions and unlock the full potential of new technologies, the future is just around the corner.