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Digital Health Q1 2022

Remote monitoring – good for the patient, NHS and environment

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Andrew Davies

Digital Health Lead, ABHI

With record waiting lists, the NHS needs to deploy technology and utilise data to make best use of their clinical resource and support patients in their home environment.

The pandemic has had many direct consequences on our society, economy and health system. It has also had some indirect consequences, not least the growing number of people waiting for elective surgery. The waiting list is now around 6 million, with forecasts that it could grow to well over 10 million over the coming years.1

This growth has a number of factors behind it. Firstly, let us not forget that the waiting list was growing even before the pandemic. Secondly, a huge number of operations had to be cancelled in the first and second waves (and to a degree the third wave). Thirdly, citizens making their own choices about not wanting to interface with the health system during the pandemic.

Chronic staffing issues

The other dynamic that was present pre-pandemic, but has been significantly exacerbated by the arrival of COVID-19, is the workforce crisis within the NHS. The NHS currently employs around 1.6 million people and whilst this figure is growing, it is not sufficient to keep up with demand.2 This situation has been compounded by staff absences which have sky-rocketed during the latest Omicron wave.3

The NHS currently employs around 1.6 million people and whilst this figure is growing, it is not sufficient to keep up with demand.

Technology is a vital tool

Dealing with this situation is multifactorial, but one of the tools in the NHS armoury is utilising technology, and in particular, the use of remote management systems and virtual wards. Virtual wards combine predictive modelling with a ‘hospital-at-home’ approach to reduce hospital admissions in a relatively low-cost manner.4

As well as reducing admissions the approach can also be used to support earlier discharge, freeing-up beds and resources. These are supported by remote patient monitoring, using IT to collect, share and analyse patient data, usually in the home or work setting. This data collection can help clinicians get a better picture of their patient’s status by providing constant data in a real-world environment.

Supporting patients

Not only does this approach improve the efficiency of the health system by making better use of staff, reducing length of stay or preventing admission, it also encourages and supports self-care and patient empowerment.

Reducing admissions is not just a benefit for the health system, it also means less visits for patients to hospitals and clinics, attending only when necessary, which in turn helps reduce the carbon footprint of delivering health and care services.

1. https://ifs.org.uk/publications/15557
2. https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/projects/nhs-in-a-nutshell/nhs-workforce?gclid=CjwKCAiA55mPBhBOEiwANmzoQm26vY46cuIB7Mf8ZsYLMvh0Q0Xarz8ykOa58sknA1fMK_8Dwx9jKRoCxLIQAvD_BwE
3. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/23/nhs-staff-sick-days-absence-england-covid
4. https://www.commonwealthfund.org/sites/default/files/documents/___ media_files_publications_issue_brief_2010_aug_1430_lewis_predictive_modeling_in_action_virtual_wards_intl_brief.pdf

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