- 20 September 2018
- Posted in: Health & Social Care, Science & Technology
Health and social care services and the way people interact with the NHS are being transformed through digital technology. It will enable people to have access to specialist healthcare and monitoring in their own home or care home. It will result in fewer hospital beds being required. Some services now provided by GPs will be provided from specialist centres. Some services provided by hospitals will be provided by GPs. People will be able to book their own appointments and video consultations with GPs or specialists will reduce the number of visits to hospitals and surgeries. Digital healthcare technology is happening globally and increasingly enables modern healthcare and specialist expertise to be provided to remote communities without easy access to hospitals and surgeries. Digital transformation of healthcare is being driven in the UK by Dr Sam Shah, Director of Digital Development at NHS England.
Change in the NHS is happening through a combination of opportunity, i.e. new technology, and necessity. Necessity is because, according to the King’s Fund, healthcare is taking up an increasing proportion of the UK’s gross domestic product – almost 8% compared to just 3.4% 50 years ago. Without the adoption of the latest digital technology initiatives, this will increase due to the ageing population, new medical treatments and unhealthy lifestyles, which result in more cancers, diabetes, and heart conditions. The UK could have 1 million more cases of diabetes by 2030 because of increasing obesity. The clinical and administrative efficiencies resulting from adoption of digital technology will enable more money to be invested in improving existing services and in new treatments.
Many people are already benefiting. Monitoring of people’s health through devices attached to them enables elderly people to avoid long stays in hospitals or care homes and be cared for remotely by family members and clinicians. Devices can collect data and send it to clinicians in real-time to be analysed. This can immediately identifying if a condition, such as asthma or diabetes, needs urgent treatment, or if a change in medication or dosage is required. These quick actions can lead to better outcomes and reduced costs by tackling problems before they become more serious and require hospital treatment. Video consultations will result in improved health care and fewer visits to surgeries and hospitals. When face to face consultations are still needed, patients will soon be able to book them on-line – putting control back with patients. Appointments will therefore be more convenient and, when there are delays, patients can be notified by text.
Digital technology, such as online symptom checkers, can enable patients to manage their own healthcare by alerting them to potential problems and the need to take action, for example with lifestyle or alerting their GP. Increasingly, patients are able to book their medical appointments online, and are able to determine via text message on the day of an appointment if there are any delays. There is early evidence that the number of GP visits could be reduced by approximately 20% from the use of technology, thus enabling GPs to spend more time with each patient. However, making changes and the implementation of technology in the NHS is complex. The NHS is composed of thousands of smaller organisations, (7,454 GP practices, 207 clinical commissioning groups, 152 acute hospital trusts, 54 mental health trusts and 35 community providers), which NHS England rely on for capability. Research suggests that over 80% of the general public are very much in favour of using digital technology for their healthcare. However, the capability of many NHS organisations may be lagging well behind public expectations.