The NHS is evolving rapidly, with the introduction of technology and newfound ideas being introduced every year. The health service has faced serious funding and capacity challenges over past decade, but the role of technology could help mitigate some of these difficulties for the years ahead. The introduction of apps that monitor diabetics’ sugar levels, research-based mental health apps and aiming to completely digitize patient records are just some of the innovative ways technology is already transforming the NHS.
We are lucky enough to be able to have access to some of the best doctors and nurses in the world, but unfortunately, this doesn’t come without pressures. “Free at the point of service” is the mantra the NHS is built on, but this does ultimately come at a cost. By 2020/21, there will be a funding gap of £30 billion; many hospitals are facing deficits, as well as facing pressure from regulators to cut waiting times in A & E and hit performance targets. There is an unprecedented burden on the NHS from an increasingly ageing population, staff shortages and pay freezes. This year, there is already reported to be a staff shortage in nursing, with 10,000 fewer nurses readily available than last year; this I most likely attributed to Brexit - another uncertainty for the health service.
Revolutionising the NHS won’t be easy, but there are already technological developments out there that if implemented, could help ease some of those pains. There is a range of technologies being implemented that create an individualised, person-centred service. We already see adverts for almost instant GP consultations via mobile phone, which removes the hassle of patients having to potentially wait weeks for an appointment.
Our own app, COPD Assistant, will allow doctors to follow Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) pathways. They can instantly access patient information, and it removes the need for patients to frequently go into hospitals for check-ups, freeing up resources. There are hundreds of digital solutions like this one which will alleviate pressures on doctors and nurses, incidentally costing the health service less and combating some of those workforce challenges.
We know that technology has a role in the future of the NHS- that’s for certain. However, we need to ensure that these sophisticated digital solutions are incorporated correctly to provide the best standard of care possible. We must ensure that patients do not feel alone in caring for themselves, and ensure that nurses are not entirely being replaced by mobile apps and computers. For the introduction of health technology to succeed within the NHS, it is a combination of the pair that will lead to the greatest success. One of the problems with using technologies like this in the NHS is that it will be hard to quantify, and if used incorrectly, could have the capacity to make the funding crisis worse. With an ageing population comes challenges of digital literacy, which in turn could put further pressures on healthcare professionals if patients don’t use these solutions properly.
The digital revolution is here. Digital solutions will soon be regularly prescribed to patients, whether they need to monitor their blood pressure, track their fertility cycles or simply want to access their medical records. These resolutions could go a long way to solving some of the deep-seated issues the healthcare system faces. With the right technology strategy in place, the future of the NHS could be driven by a digital revolution which will improve communication between doctors and patients and allow people to manage their own health conditions without leaving their homes.