The UK’s NHS is going through one of the most challenging periods in its existence.
A number of trends have emerged which threaten the NHS’s ability to deliver immediate care to patients. Some of these trends are short term; most notably the Junior Doctor’s strike over the imposition of a new contract, which caused widespread disruption. In Manchester, for example only 3 percent of out-patient care and non-emergency treatment and operations went ahead during the two April strikes.
But there are other longer term trends that will affect the delivery of patient care. These include steadily rising costs and heightened budget pressures, aging populations and rising chronic disease rates.
The transformation of healthcare
If healthcare providers like the NHS are to continue to deliver high-quality services, they must transform. It’s now clear that new resources must be embraced and healthcare systems integrated across the entire continuum of care to help patients in innovative ways.
In this new model for healthcare delivery the patient must be at the centre of a web of caregivers and healthcare professionals connected to them and to each other through integrated physical and virtual tools. This is healthcare brought to you by the Internet of Things (IoT)—using data capture and analysis on a huge scale to make patient care more effective and efficient.
Take the example of a patient with a heart disease. Traditionally, the patient would attend a surgery for regular check-ups with his/her GP and/or specialist to ensure the disease is controlled and any further developments are prevented. This approach is resource intensive for the healthcare provider; heart failure (HF) costs account for 2 percent of all healthcare costs in Europe and a disproportionate share of avoidable costs. It is also inconvenient for the patient.
IoT-enabled HF management services, on the other hand, can reduce cost of care by lowering readmissions and enabling the patient to live their life normally. Patients are tracked by a nurse coach and Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) tools and any ”out of range” biometric data can be sent straight to the patients GP and specialist. Automated analytics tools, meanwhile, search the aggregate data to uncover new correlations and learnings.
Through IoT-enabled HF management services, care can be delivered in a low impact way that saves resources and improves outcomes.
Wearables and patient-driven healthcare
But IoT can offer even more, particularly when it comes to preventative care. Consumer wearable devices such as the Fitbit and the Apple Watch have been embraced by the current generation of health-conscious technophiles. It’s no longer enough to simply go for a jog—people now want to know how long it took, how quickly they ran and how many calories they burned. And behaviour-focused programs like Pokemon GO™ have shown some success getting even the non-health conscious to take literal and figurative steps towards better health.
Although much work still needs to be done to meet appropriate regulatory and privacy requirements, this data could be sent to healthcare professionals to give them a more informed view of their patients. In fact, the breadth of the data could help clinicians spot potential health problems before they emerge. Preventative care like this costs far less than treating illness and is infinitely preferable to many patients.
IoT also opens up the potential for personalised healthcare. It will mean that rather than treating illness, doctors will treat patients as individuals. Such approaches are already happening. For example, Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre has teamed up with Fitbit to see if oncologists can better tailor chemotherapy to individual patients. This is because Fitbit provides an objective tool for understanding which patients are active enough to tolerate chemotherapy and how they responded to previous treatments.
A new model for healthcare
So yes, the NHS, along with most other healthcare organisations in the world, has some significant challenges to meet. But it also has better tools than ever before to help it tackle these challenges.
IoT-enabled telemedicine will allow patients to be treated remotely, saving the NHS money and enabling patients to spend as little time as possible in hospitals. It also allows patients to take more control of their health and work with doctors to prevent illnesses before they emerge.
We’re only at the very beginning of the telemedicine revolution, but already we can see its huge promise.
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