Tbtech looks at how technology has restructured the relationship between patients, healthcare providers, and the health system.
While many industries worldwide have discussed digitization for many years, the Covid-19 pandemic forced the healthcare system to change rapidly. As mentioned by Satpal Biant, Head of Public Sector, UK & Ireland SAP, “the transformation that has taken place since the start of the pandemic has ingrained digitization into the fabric of our society for both business and pleasure.”
Within the UK, the NHS has changed quickly over the last few years by introducing various digital systems, which have provided patients with a modern experience and a centralized place where doctors can see all patient information. Telemedicine, artificial intelligence-enabled medical devices, and blockchain electronic health records are just a few concrete examples of digital transformation in healthcare. These technologies have completely reshaped how we interact with health professionals, how our data is shared among providers and how decisions are made about our treatment plans and health outcomes.
The digital transformation of healthcare
In 2018, the government announced £20.5bn of additional funding for the NHS in England by 2023/24. Launched in January 2019, the NHS Long Term Plan set out priorities for spending this money over the next ten years to improve and reform the NHS. As part of this plan, there will be an increased range of digital tools and services to allow patients to look for online information and support in line with the recent surge of virtual consultations, online record keeping and patient monitoring.
The impact of the pandemic on healthcare digitization has been widespread and is seen as a positive in most cases. The following examples show how the NHS has transformed throughout the pandemic:
- National bodies led the purchasing of digital tools to enable remote consultations across the NHS and offered advice on information control to permit non-specialist tools such as Skype.
- While the NHS app had already been introduced to the market in March 2020, a massive increase has been recorded from May 2021. Once the COVID-19 vaccine status was added to the app, it saw a rise of 6 million to 10 million users.
- During the pandemic, the NHS established an additional app-specific to COVID-19, which provided information about COVID-19 risk levels and supported contract tracing. By the beginning of May 2021, the app had been downloaded over 23.5 million times.
- COVID-19 has brought significant changes in the delivery of GP appointments, with practices asked to implement remote triage to establish whether patients needed face-to-face appointments or a telephone, video or another kind of remote consultation. GP appointments data collected by NHS Digital are classified as ‘experimental data’, and only Progress against the plan partially capture telephone triage and online consultations. Nevertheless, the data show a sharp fall in face-to-face appointments and a subsequent rise in telephone consultations.
Now that we know how the healthcare system has transformed digitally, what technologies are helping the NHS to adapt quickly.
The Internet of Things has supported the transformation to remote monitoring of patients by using connected devices. These devices provide healthcare professionals with a way to monitor patient health and vitals from home. The data received from these devices will be accessible to clinical teams in real-time while allowing them access to a range of indicators such as glucose levels, temperature, heart rates, blood pressure and other key markers. In the case of a medical emergency or concerning changes in a patient’s health, specialists will be alerted to provide immediate interventions. Due to the time saved from collecting data in real-time, there has been a noticeable reduction in waiting time, and processes have become more efficient. When this is combined with video conferencing and telephone calls, doctors can increase the number of patients they reach and assess per day.
Edge computing has been used to improve standards of care nationwide as healthcare workers have more access to patients in places that have been harder to reach. In addition, through computing, processing and analyzing data, the overall patient experience has been improved with reduced waiting times and costs. On top of this, edge computing has also improved clinical trials by allowing bigger areas to be included in experiments while occurring more often and accurately.
The healthcare system has started to leverage the power of AI to improve with more data. An example of how AI is being used is through the diagnosis process. Studies have shown that AI-trained platforms can outperform physicians in various ways to diagnose various cancers, brain tumours, and eye diseases. Through the constant use of AI, these technologies will constantly learn and will outshine doctors. In the next 10 years, there is a huge possibility that AI platforms will become the new family GP, and if they see that you require a specialist, they will forward them a request.
The challenges of digital transformation
While these technologies are creating amazing healthcare solutions, there are a few downfalls to the digitization of the healthcare system.
One downfall to the use of internet of things devices is that the implementation of devices can result in various irregularities. Therefore, there is a need for regulations and processes to be implemented to keep standards high across all settings.
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Another downfall of having access to so much of patients’ data is the possibility of a data breach. Healthcare is a very sensitive topic, and personal health records are confidential between patients and their doctors. However, cyberattacks have created a challenge that the industry needs to address. Thankfully, to mitigate these risks, there is a large amount of security options for the industry to consider implementing into their systems.