Digital Health Lead, ABHI
In the battle against COVID-19, digital technologies have proved their worth, providing the virtual foundations for the next generation of healthcare delivery.
In fact, Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, recently said: “The pandemic has been as close as you can get to fighting a war without actually fighting a war.” The way that all parties came together to tackle a common enemy was quite remarkable, and one we should all be proud of.
As well as being reinforced by a veritable army of volunteers, the NHS has been supported by technology. In the history of war – be that armed conflicts, cold wars or space wars – these periods typically breed technological development. COVID-19 has been no different, and we have already seen significant changes in the way technology is used in the NHS:
- Primary care was transformed from a walk-in service to a “dial-in or click-first service” in the space of weeks.
- Hundreds of thousands of people across the country are turning to digital services – such as the NHS App or 111’s online service — for help about their conditions.
- Electronic patient records and other essential technology services were installed within days at new field hospitals across the country.
- Remote health and social monitoring are a growing part of the armoury for hard pressed GP and outpatient clinics.
- Several new apps have been launched and adopted into the NHS, with the online status checker rolled out nationally.
The challenge, then, will be to hold on to these gains that have come out of necessity to “peacetime” use.
Technologies have kept the service running, but equally, they make that service more efficient, helping to ease the workload of those who are working on the COVID-19 frontline. It would be foolish to throw this away now.
There is a very real ‘want’ from both patients, and those within the health service, to keep digitisation on track. A silver lining around a very dark cloud that is COVID-19.
Managing health online alleviates pressure on NHS
Let’s not think about the NHS in isolation either, it’s part of a larger change in society. A digitally literate health service is, arguably, the natural direction of travel. For many reading this, homeworking is the new normal, with video conferencing facilities now critical to our everyday lives. The same is true for government, with cabinet meetings being held virtually. In a similar way to how we manage our finances online, we are now seeing that it is possible to manage our own health that way too.
There will always be a role for the hospital, but with the right use of technology, we can start to look at delivering care in alternative environments.
Through monitoring and predictive algorithms, we are now better placed to manage our own health than ever before, with added focus on prevention and protection, thus alleviating pressures on the NHS, and allowing healthcare professionals to deliver care where it is most needed.
Digital health tracking can support lifestyle improvements
The opportunity for population health management, with a focus on healthy living, is huge, and engaged citizens have the ability to make this work. Through data collection, digital health solutions can improve our lifestyles and maintain good health for longer. As a result, fewer visits to the doctors are required, meaning a win for the patient, and a win for all of us as taxpayers.
I sense that there is a very real ‘want’ from both patients, and those
within the health service, to keep digitisation on track. A silver lining around a very dark
cloud that is COVID-19.