Carolina Wosiack, managing director at CI&T, discusses how the NHS can harness innovation for faster, more-effective care, bridging the gap between patients and providers and creating a futureproof health and care system
Post COVID, the NHS must continue to embrance technology to ease the pressure on clinicians and address the growing backlog of patients waiting for treatment
Ever since Britain abolished its remaining COVID-19 restrictions at the start of 2022, much of the public has enjoyed a well-deserved return to pre-pandemic normality.
Sadly, this has not been the case for the UK’s healthcare sector.
First sparked by urgent COVID care, the NHS backlog continues to spiral and NHS England waiting lists now documents an increase of over 50% since March 2020.
And the public faces lengthier, painful delays in treatment, while doctors are suffering the highest levels of workplace burnout since records began.
So, can we remodel the NHS to reduce these risks?
Insights gleaned from the pandemic can be used to transform how we look at healthcare.
Alongside the record-shattering speeds of vaccine development, modern technologies such as AI and cloud data storage can now be crafted to enhance the care that doctors, nurses, and hospitals provide.
The pandemic also highlighted areas for improvement that can’t be solved by innovation alone.
To create healthcare services fit for the future, professionals must leverage a combination of new technological, managerial, and administrative solutions.
Though technology cannot yet replace the care offered by professionals, it can often help tide over the gaps between diagnosis and treatment.
Take mental health, for instance.
Modern technologies such as AI and cloud data storage can now be crafted to enhance the care that doctors, nurses, and hospitals provide
In England, around 1.6 million people currently sit on the NHS waiting list for mental health care.
Fortunately, AI-powered therapy chatbots such as Wysa are now being trialled in the hope they can maintain, and even improve, symptoms while patients wait for treatment.
Meanwhile, artificial intelligence (AI) can help to reduce wait times and ease pressure on practitioners, too.
Tools such as Symptoma can be used to screen a patient’s symptoms and direct them towards precise care for a faster, more-effective journey, while releasing healthcare professionals to focus on other pressing tasks.
And then there’s hardware.
New wearable technologies, like portable ECG and blood pressure monitors, offer clinicians fresh opportunities to check patient progress remotely.
Wearables such as Fitbits help users to stay fit and healthy and even send alerts such as low blood oxygen levels.
Plus, portable devices, such as home haemodialysis machines, allow patients to undergo dialysis from the comfort of their own bedrooms, while freeing up hospital beds for urgent inpatients.
With such indisputable benefits, it’s time we embrace technology at every treatment stage.
Early in the pandemic, usage of telehealth services surged as clinicians attempted to deliver effective healthcare from socially-distanced locations.
And, ever since, the adoption of telehealth has continued to climb, particularly in fields such as radiology, cardiology, and behavioural health, with analysts predicting it to become a $636billion industry by 2028.
To improve waiting times and treat patients who struggle to travel, UK healthcare providers should continue to remotely communicate and diagnose patients where appropriate.
The Scottish Government’s Near Me programme is a prime example of remote treatment success, as uptake has grown from 7,000 consultations in 2019 to over a million in 2021.
Plus, 75.1% of Near Me patients, and 87.9% of clinicians, agree it will remain a valuable service even now social distancing is no longer required, citing benefits like faster access to support, greater convenience, lower wait times, and reduced environmental impact.
Healthcare providers must be curious and receptive, pausing any preconceived or traditional ideas to explore the perks of these new, advanced healthcare ideas
Yet there’s still scope for innovations such as telehealth to be implemented further.
Healthcare providers must be curious and receptive, pausing any preconceived or traditional ideas to explore the perks of these new, advanced healthcare ideas.
Meanwhile, technology developers should work to bridge the knowledge gap between their services and clinicians through training and support to ensure even-wider, more-effective uptake.
For many of these changes to be ultimately effective, the NHS system may require large-scale redevelopment.
In its current state, the NHS aims to provide treatment to the masses, rather than treat the individual.
A genuine breakthrough would be the construction of an online ecosystem through which patients and healthcare professionals can all communicate
In England, many people don’t even own their personal healthcare data.
Now that the worst of the pandemic is over, it’s time to reconsider how the NHS operates.
Improvement should start with upgrades to the NHS smartphone app, but it mustn’t end there.
A genuine breakthrough would be the construction of an online ecosystem through which patients and healthcare professionals can all communicate. Then, patients could digitally book appointments, message clinicians for urgent advice, download their personal database, and much more.
This would also help remove much of the laborious admin contributing to the backlog.
Though technology cannot yet replace the care offered by professionals, it can often help tide over the gaps between diagnosis and treatment
The Government should reintroduce taskforces too, like the National Quality Improvement Taskforce for mental health.
In the past, these taskforces investigated the enhancement of healthcare processes by leveraging expertise from a range of departments, and collaborated to create solutions for the UK’s sternest NHS challenges.
Then, evidence-based recommendations can help to transform the system for the better.
And, while other issues such as inflation dominate today’s headlines, these taskforces must begin work ASAP.
To truly learn from the past, we must prepare for the next healthcare crisis today – long before it’s too late.