The future of digital healthcare

Technological change has already happened in the world around us and our daily lives have been transformed as a result of smart phones and Wi-Fi. Yet the untapped potential for other aspects of our lives to be enhanced by thoughtfully applied digital solutions is enormous.

If we focus in on just a single area – healthcare, for which Government has an enormous responsibility, in today’s digitally connected world, why is it that, when it comes to our health, we wait until we are ill, then seek an appointment with a doctor or nurse working from a costly surgery? Why is that we wait for paper records to pass through the system until we receive treatment for a condition that has often become worse in the meantime?

Does it have to be this way? What if….

  • …we could wear a device that proactively monitored our physiology and alerted us, and our GP, of a change in state to prompt early intervention and the potential to prevent serious illness?
  • …this was complemented by a same day (24/7), virtual consultation with our GP to diagnose the condition and set in motion the optimum course of treatment?
  • …a single, electronic patient record could then be shared and updated by everyone involved in delivering that course of treatment, the time and cost of treating the patient could be significantly reduced and patient experience and outcomes improved?
  • …the same wearable device that diagnosed the condition could be used to monitor patients during and after treatment, facilitating an early discharge from hospital, in turn addressing the bed-blocking that has such an impact on the NHS today?
  • …throughout this process, the electronic record could drive the authorisation of payment from a Care Commissioning Group to providers, assist the forecasting and rostering of staff to align with demand and feed into the Care Quality Commission and NHS Improvement reporting metrics recommended by the Carter Review.

UK sales of wearable health and fitness monitors were expected to reach over 13 million last year, and the forecast is for more than threefold growth in global sales by 2020. This represents a significant cultural acceptance for wearable monitoring devices and an established base in the UK that can be leveraged immediately, with the volumes of device shipments bringing down costs, while competition and consumer demands will increase functionality.

Secure, virtual consultation is a reality today and can be operated between GPs and patients on any device including a simple app, so the click-and-connect functionality we have all become accustomed to elsewhere could be available in the Health Service, and at minimal additional cost.

The digitisation of legacy patient records is underway in a number of NHS trusts and the creation of a single, real time patient record encompassing GP, CCG, provider and patient is in operation.

Finally, the management and integration of this data, while a large and complex task, is something that can be implemented today in support of Lord Carter’s recommendations. We know there are major gaps and challenges facing the NHS. Digital transformation to enable step change is one way to help to close them. Digital technologies can help integrate systems, providers, professionals, and carers around the needs of patients at every stage of a care pathway. 

Harnessing data can help care professionals to understand and cope with changing needs. Digital interfaces can also help prioritise treatment by professionals, aid in self-diagnosis, filter out simple cases and focus resources on higher-priority cases while cutting delivery costs and increasing speed of service.

In many cases, digital solutions are ready for implementation if there are corresponding cultural and organisational shifts. Radical thinking will be needed.

Technology partners who can work hand-in-glove with healthcare managers and clinicians to harness digital technologies will be able to improve patient outcomes and target resources where they are needed most.

Pooven Maduramuthu, Vice President – Health, Atos UK&I

Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy