Since its creation back in 1948, the NHS has been an iconic and cherished British institution, almost classed as a ‘national treasure’. But as the public need has increased and spending reduced, new and ever more innovative ways must be implemented to not only boost NHS funds but make services more efficient and cost-effective. In fact, figures show an essential increase in funding of at least 4% per year is required for the NHS to continue providing the current level of service to the same quality standard.
In the November 2017 budget, some extra funding was allocated to the NHS; but is it enough? The Health Foundation, The King's Fund and the Nuffield Trust estimated that health spending would need to rise to approximately £153 billion by 2022/23. Unfortunately, the funding from the November 2017 budget still meant the lack of funding would reach almost £20 billion by 2022/23.
Definition of digital health
Digital health refers to the use of information and communication technology to track patient health indicators such as heart rate and blood pressure. The massive rise in popularity of digital health over recent years clearly shows that technology companies are answering the demand of the public. A clear example of this is in the number of health tracking apps which have exploded on to the market in recent years, with over 165,000 health apps on the App store alone.
Why is digital health important for the NHS?
Digital health can bring huge benefits to both patients and clinicians. It allows patients to manage long-term conditions themselves, and to keep a track of their health without needing to visit a GP. This, in turn, frees up much-needed appointments for other people. The remote monitoring devices track their health from home, aiding the support of external care teams can offer.
Digital health can also aid the patient in understanding their condition more thoroughly and have greater input into their own care.
More benefits of digital health include:
- Doctors and other healthcare professionals can access patient readings at any time
- Technology which is simple and quick to use
- Changes in treatment can happen much faster due to accurate tracking
- Extra resource freed up elsewhere
Examples of digital health
Digital health has already made huge strides in improving the healthcare sector, both in the delivery of NHS services as well as in health and fitness awareness more generally.
The FitBit, for example, is an example of a Digital Health tool that is making a marked improvement in the way people live their lives. The point of FitBit is it helps the user to lose weight by keeping track of what they eat and how much exercise they do each day. Food, activities and weight are logged over time, whilst calorie intake and burn off are accurately measured when app users keep their tracker on. However, the app can also be used as a simple lifestyle app without wearing the tracker.
Accessible and inexpensive, FitBits and other similar style products such as digital health apps are popular and widely used in fitness classes and weight loss groups. They are also sometimes incorporated into workplace wellness programs, with the thinking that colleagues can egg each other on and share their achievements.
But how can digital health extend to those with more complex needs, such as the elderly and those with long-term life-limiting conditions? This is where telehealth and assisted technology comes in.
Telehealth is another example of digital health. It refers to technology that helps with managing long term health conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Chronic Heart Failure (CHF), Diabetes and Epilepsy.
Telehealth becomes an integrated part of the patient’s care plan, and the information about their health is monitored regularly to flag up issues before they become a much bigger problem. It works by tracking vital signs like breathing and blood pressure, and sends the data through a telephone line or broadband connection, to either a telehealth monitoring centre or a specific health care professional. The data is then compared against parameters defined by the patient’s doctor. If anything looks amiss or has slipped outside normal parameters, an appropriate fast response can then be initiated.
Assistive technology is about providing an individual with the ability to control their immediate environment so that they can continue living independently at home. This boosts an individual’s motivation and confidence, as well as providing reassurance for their caregivers.
This type of technology can mean people staying in their own homes for longer, which in turn helps to reduce the care costs that would otherwise be needed for residential accommodation or hospital care.
It’s no secret that the NHS is struggling, with a widening financial black hole and uncertainty over the outcome of Brexit only adding to its woes. But with seemingly endless possibilities in digital health innovation, the NHS – in whatever form it ends up taking – is looking increasingly futureproof.