technology is driving the future of healthcare

The use of technology to deliver healthcare in Britain has surged in recent years, partly thanks to the pandemic. This has resulted in a rapid shift to technologies such as video calling, commonly referred to in healthcare as video consultations, as a means of delivering care remotely. There has also been enthusiastic uptake of apps to access health services, with 28 million people now using the NHS app in the UK and 40 million having an NHS login.

Technology is changing the way people think about the future of healthcare, especially in the NHS. To ensure the sector’s long-term sustainability and help tackle its growing list of challenges, it needs the right digital foundations in place – a perspective that is at the heart of the NHS Hospital at Home initiative. The plan aims to provide “a health and social care system that will be much faster and more efficient, and provide more personalized care”, where in the future half a million people with long-term illnesses will be treated at home instead of in hospitals. This radical decision will have concrete impacts, ranging from reducing waiting lists to improving the lives of seniors.

Fight against data blockages

Hospitals have always operated with data, but historically they have been inundated with endless piles of paper records that have been filed slowly, often by hand. A wider move to electronic patient records (EPRs) and secure sharing of patient data across all areas of the NHS and healthcare facilities will revolutionize how it works. Trusts across the UK are starting to implement ERP platforms which will provide clinicians with more information to make more effective decisions. They will have automatic access to support tools, which means that their decisions will be based on the information available. It will also make staff more efficient, increase collaboration and create a smoother care journey for patients.

The biggest challenges facing the NHS today include the growing backlog of appointments and rising waiting times, which only get worse when data is not used effectively. To enable remote care, healthcare providers need the infrastructure in place to efficiently manage and analyze this data while maintaining connectivity. This will only become more relevant with the rollout of 5G networks and the eventual switch to 6G, with the right network capabilities promising a richer healthcare ecosystem that can more effectively meet the needs of patients and providers. Thanks to this, technologies such as sensors and wearable Internet of Things (IoT) devices will allow access to newer and faster ways to understand and treat diseases, thanks to the large amounts of data collected. from these systems.

Digital-first primary care can streamline collected data to create a more efficient healthcare system. The Hospital at Home program was introduced amid spiraling NHS waiting lists and initially focused on getting people out of hospital in a timely manner, but virtual service plans are now expanding.

Research from the University of Oxford has shown that hospital treatments at home can be just as effective, or even better, than those given in hospitals, particularly in elderly patients. Increased uptake of the program will see patients monitored through video calls, doctor visits and equipment to allow them to observe and treat conditions at home, reducing pressure on waiting lists . Ultimately, it’s about providing the same level of monitoring and care that a patient could get inside a hospital, but at their chosen location.

Video calls as important as ambulances

Hospital at Home shows how healthcare professionals can use technology to provide more efficient and immediate patient care, especially with virtual consultations via video calls. During the pandemic, Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) implemented video capabilities as a solution that would enable continuity of care in the most seamless way possible.

In just eight days, GOSH rolled out video visit capabilities to 5,000 hospital staff and was fully integrated into its EPR system, ultimately moving all appointments to be fully online. These abilities enabled GOSH to continue to provide the physical, social and emotional aspects of childcare, which greatly supported isolated families going through difficult situations, ensuring that no one felt alone. In fact, Dr. Shankar Sridharan, Consultant Pediatric Cardiologist and CCIO at GOSH, believes that video calls are as important as ambulances when it comes to treating patients, as both allow medical professionals to see them. .

GOSH found that two-thirds of patients and parents who experienced a virtual visit were likely to recommend a virtual visit. Describing its video-based pandemic approach as a “hospital without walls”, this launched a longer-term digital approach for the hospital. Now the team is exploring other technologies, such as virtual carts for bedside calls, connecting parents at home with hospitalized children.

When creating an initiative such as Hospital at Home, video technology plays a critical role in breaking down physical barriers to accessing healthcare and ensuring that as many patients as possible can be treated. The flexibility of video meetings is useful in many settings, such as group clinics for long-term disease management, mental health therapy and rehabilitation, and for patients with agoraphobia. Video technology also enables rapid decision making by providing expertise where it is needed, even in remote environments. Clinicians can consult specialists in critical care situations and doctors can make the right decisions faster and potentially save lives.

The flexibility of video consultations and remote care can save thousands of people from having to travel to in-person appointments and prevent healthcare professionals from spending time traveling between consultations in different locations . This will allow them to spend more time seeing more patients during a shift, reducing the backlog of appointments. Alongside this, the increased use of technology and video calling has allowed more jobs to be done in the sector remotely, alleviating the stress and burnout seen across the NHS. Indeed research brought this to life, finding that from February 2020 to March 2023, there was a 400% increase in remote roles for doctors and a 616% increase in remote roles for nurses.

Virtual reality and AI are enabling new capabilities at the heart of healthcare

Besides video consultations, a range of other technologies are playing their part in the healthcare revolution. Virtual reality (VR), for example, helps patients and healthcare providers achieve better treatments and outcomes by improving surgical efficiency. For example, before an operation, a neurosurgeon can virtually explore a patient’s brain, giving them a unique way to prepare for what’s to come. It can also allow patients and their families to better understand a procedure in advance.

Virtual reality also plays a vital role in training, providing an immersive and hands-on learning experience. By putting on a VR headset, a medical professional can treat virtual patients as they would in real life, and most importantly, it allows mistakes to be made, from which lessons can be learned. For larger-scale learning, video platforms can deliver webinars to up to 50,000 attendees at a time, providing the training needed to empower the next generation of NHS nurses and doctors.

Technology can also help patients with more complex needs, for example, those who may be deaf or hard of hearing. The Hospital at Home initiative can offer everyone the opportunity to participate in telehealth, with live transcripts enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) generating real-time captions as a clinician speaks. These patients will no longer feel neglected because with real-time captions they can be fully informed and kept up to date with the conversation. With the home hospital helping to care for frail or elderly patients who would otherwise have to spend time in the hospital, these technologies can allow them to live a more fulfilling life, closer to their loved ones.

A healthier future
With growing NHS queues, mounting pressure on the healthcare sector and exhausted staff, the Hospital at Home program could not have come at a better time. But this initiative is only a small part of a larger journey towards a truly digital future for healthcare. Although video will play a key role, it will be supported by a range of other technologies, from virtual reality to AI and ERP, all playing their part in ensuring that we have a health system adapted to our needs. This will allow healthcare professionals to provide better care to those who need it most.

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