Innovation Cities

Basque Country reaches out to the elderly

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Basque Country reaches out to the elderly using technology

Facing a crisis on two fronts from the crippling financial meltdown of 2008 and an ageing population with chronic healthcare problems, authorities in the Basque Country have looked to technology to ease the strain on their health service.

"Eighteen percent of the population is over the age of 65, and this has led to an ageing population with greater and increased health needs," Antonio Arraiza, Basque Country clinical director, said in a report for CNBC's Innovation Cities.

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The Basque solution to this problem has been to develop a centralized, multi-platform healthcare system, which enables patients – many with restricted mobility – to access healthcare using their phones, the internet and a new patient monitoring system called TEKI, developed in conjunction with Accenture.

"This allows the chronic patients in their home to interact with their physicians, in a real-time, visual way," Mark Knickrehm, senior global managing director, Accenture Health and Public Service, told CNBC.

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Patients using TEKI are supplied with a heart rate monitor, a spirometer to check respiratory levels, and a motion sensor – originally designed for use in video games – which evaluates their mobility. Real-time data is sent to a patient's doctor, who can then administer care and write out prescriptions remotely.

Tim Graham | Getty Images

The aim of the scheme is to reduce face-to-face interactions between patient and doctor to lower costs, improve their quality of life, decrease re-admissions, and lessen the need for elderly and immobile patients to travel to hospitals or surgeries.

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So far, TEKI has proved to be a great success. "The pilot in the Basque country saved over $55 million in its first year, by eliminating 52,000 hospital visits," Knickrehm added. There has also been a 7 percent cost reduction per patient.

With life expectancies in the Basque country increasing – in 2011 the average life expectancy was 78.1 years old, up from 75.3 in 2011 – the need for a service such as TEKI is only going to increase.

"In this country there are 2.2 million people, and 70% of healthcare costs are generated by chronic patients, or patients with multiple illnesses," Jon Etxebarria Cruz, General Manager of Osakidetza, the public healthcare system in the Basque Country, told CNBC. "We need to be able to constantly rethink how we solve healthcare problems," he added.

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