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The future of healthcare


“An apple a day will keep the doctor away.”
Well we have either been eating an awful lot of apples, or there has been a vast improvement in healthcare to create the ageing population we live in today.
The latter is the main cause of our ageing population (not apples sadly), and whilst it feels something we should be rejoicing, the rise in life expectancy is somewhat becoming a curse. Repercussions of an ageing population include high levels of the elderly becoming “bed blockers”. Bed blocking is where a hospital bed is occupied yet the patient does not necessarily need it, often caused by a delay in paperwork or the next phase of care for the patient has not been established. Further pressures of the ageing population are being felt by GPs; there are over one million patients every week who are not able to get a GP appointment (Telegraph). These pressures are not going to easily diminish with the population constantly rising, and life expectancy ever increasing.
“Our patients should be able to see a GP when they need to.” – Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners.
The world is becoming too populated to cater to everyone’s needs and something has to change. The rise of innovative technologies may be the answer to everyone’s prayers. Deloitte has suggested being technology-driven may turn out to be a lifesaver for those who live in rural geographic areas. Unlike other sectors, healthcare has taken its time to get off the starting line of the digital transformation race. Reasons as to why innovation has been limited is largely due to the legacy infrastructure, as well as the risks and regulations related with patients’ data. Only 6% of healthcare brands describe themselves as digital-firsts, compared to 11% of other sectors (eConsultancy). However, 80% of doctors are already using medical apps on their smartphones.
A separate issue is consumers’ use of technology. Whilst 88% of adults in the UK do use the internet, a small 2% reported a digitally aided transaction with the NHS (Nuffield trust), despite the fact 75% of people search the web for health information, and 50% are using the internet to self-diagnose. (Nuffield trust). The major question here is, how to not only improve the productivity of healthcare’s digital transformation, but also to ensure the care remains high quality. Nuffield trust has put forward opportunities to guarantee this happens:
• More systematic, high-quality care e.g. Electronic Health Records, Real time data
• More proactive and targeted care e.g. Vital signs monitoring
• Better-coordinated care e.g. Mobile working
• Improved access to specialist access to specialist expertise .e.g. Telehealth/Telecare
• Greater patient engagement e.g. Wearable apps, Online communities
• Improved resource management e.g. Business process support
• System improvement and learning e.g. Predictive analysis
Technology is without a doubt the answer to the future of health care, and it’s now time to ensure people use the tools the sector is putting in place for them.
Adherence is one of the biggest issues in healthcare, and whilst almost half of all adults are on repeat prescription, it is estimated that 40% aren’t taking their medication as directed. Introducing AdhereTech; a pill bottle that contains numerous sensors which feed data back to the company’s system 24/7. If people make a mistake with their medication, the owner of the bottle will receive a personalised intervention for them. This may be the bottle flashing, automated phone call, text or any customisable option they would like. On average this example of “The Internet of Things” (Internet connected devices to improve the lives of users) increases adherence by over 20% and duration by over 25%! (CIO Review)

bottle

This revolution in technology will allow people to become more aware of their bodies, allowing them to take control of their own health. In the long term this new style of healthcare will save the NHS huge amounts (Marketing Week). With a digital transformation imminent, healthcare will no longer be a model of simply treating the ill, it will become a combination of prevention and treatment (Econsultancy). The move from proactive to reactive care (Nuffield trust) can be achieved through telehealth.

Even two years ago 80% of doctors stated that telehealth was better than a traditional office visit for managing chronic diseases (Forbes). Telehealth offers patients, as well as health care providers, accessibility and freedom. No longer will people’s geographic locations limit their access to healthcare; all patients have to do is pop on a call with a doctor. Echo is a fantastic example of what future holds for this sector. This free app allows you to take control of your NHS repeat prescriptions, which are then delivered to your door. The app then reminds you when and how to take your medication.

box

Some people joke that they couldn’t live without their mobile phones, yet this may actually start being the case. A partnership which is going to change healthcare forever is wearables and Big Data. Wearable devices connected to people’s smartphones are able to collect data about an individual, to generate personal medical reports (Forbes). Predicting peoples risks and overall saving people’s lives. A superb illustration of this is the healthcare app, Xbird. The app uses Continuous Activity Monitoring (CAM) to create profiles of a patient’s daily lives, obtaining millions of data points which are than analysed by Xbird’s medical experts and data scientists to interpret patterns associated with health events. As well as being innovative, this app is also a life saver for diabetics; by gathering data associated with hypoglycaemic events, the company has predicted they will have saved 1 million lives by 2020. These wearables allow consumers to have a greater understanding of their health, and is overall much less invasive for patients (Deloitte).

tech

Another major breakthrough in healthcare is the use of Virtual Reality (VR) for the training of doctors and in the treatment of patients. When healthcare professionals were asked what they saw as the most exciting prospect for 2020, over a quarter said it was VR (eConsultancy). This area of technology has already proven to help in the rehabilitation of stroke patients as well as acting as an analgesia in other circumstances. There is a case study from Shriners Hospital in Galveston (Texas) whereby a VR game was developed, named ‘Snow World’ to help children during wound care of severe burns. Investigations revealed children sensed 35-40% less pain and discomfort throughout the sessions with VR; it was concluded this was a result of the children having less attention on incoming pain signals.

Virtual reality

What does the future hold, then, for healthcare? It has been estimated that by 2018 a huge 65% of healthcare interactions will occur through mobile phones. Furthermore, there are rumours from CNBC that Amazon have a secret tech team called 1492 that may be exploring opportunities in digital health for the company. Efforts have previously been made by Google with Google Health, but nothing ground breaking as yet. In other areas, experimentation is already taking place inserting microchips into patients to track vital signs, meaning drug doses can be provided at specific time each day. On the other hand, drones are delivering drugs to disaster zones and remote areas (The Guardian). Overall, we are currently unsure where or who will take us into this digital healthcare era, but we are prepared to be amazed wherever it will take us in the long-term!

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