The landscape of the healthcare system in the U.K. is exceptionally complex and a massive burden on the public purse. Pressure for improvements continues to grow. With an ageing population and a declining birth rate, it’s imperative to find the best way to provide individualised and effective care for adults. A preventative approach would revolutionise the future of adult care and the healthcare sector in the U.K.
Indeed, the government published a green paper in July 2019 entitled ‘Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s’ extolling the opportunity of “proactive, predictive, and personalised prevention. This means: • targeted support • tailored lifestyle advice • personalised care • greater protection against future threats” and using new technologies, data collection and mining to usher in a new way of managing health.
Of course, much has changed since July 2019 and we have not heard more about this brave new approach. However, the opportunity is still there; what are the factors involved?
Accessible, managed care should allow patients to be an active part of finding the best solution for their health concerns. Patients need to have the knowledge and resources to take charge of their own health. The key to patient empowerment is leveraging the use of connected digital technology.
Mobile technology is one of the big keys to patient empowerment. This technology makes it easier for users to access health information including medical records and reminders of appointments or upcoming medication refills. The ability of patients to access comprehensive medical information on demand is expected to be enhanced in the next five years.
Patients must be encouraged to make educated decisions on what they believe they need for their health and well-being rather than allowing others to decide what’s in their best interest. No one knows your body as well as you do, so when you recognize changes in your own body and health, you should be able to connect with accessible health technology that allows treatment to get started sooner rather than later.
Data generation and analysis is crucial to the future of care and faster - and more effective - treatment. Technology for health monitoring continues to make rapid advancements. Virtual conferencing lets you talk to a medical professional without leaving your home. Both physical and mental health can be monitored with the use of health monitoring technology, which has the potential to build an informative healthcare journey.
Remote patient monitoring is an especially important aspect of health tech. It allows medical professionals to support both high risk and low-risk patients while they’re at home. Wearables and sensors can alert you to subtle changes in your vital signs such as blood pressure or heart rate and can provide machine-assisted alerts and other data to dashboards. Being able to quickly alert a healthcare professional about a potential problem can lead to quicker recovery time and prevent some hospital admissions.
For patients facing mental health challenges, remote monitoring can track changes in heart rate, sleep habits, weight changes and signs of restlessness or agitation. These signs can alert a mental health professional of potential problems possibly even before the patient may realise symptoms are worsening. Future understanding of these issues is a game-changing investment area.
Currently, elderly or disabled patients living at home alone can communicate with healthcare professionals after the occurrence of an injury or other type of emergency. Falls, for example, cost the NHS a gigantic £2.3 billion per year. Whilst there are a massive range of factors increasing the risk of a fall, what if they could be prevented altogether?
Instead of smartwatches or wristbands which send out a signal if the wearer doesn’t press a button when prompted, new technologies focus on fall prevention systems including use of video to give a full view of the potential patient and their surroundings.
For adults seeking healthcare at home, not having available skilled workers can affect the quality of care they can receive. Improved care at home requires trained healthcare workers who are paid a living wage. Recruiting skilled workers in this field can be challenging. Low wages make these workers feel undervalued and imply that healthcare workers are unskilled. Improving the wages of carers can lead to better quality care at home and better options for those looking for home care.
The need to fairly compensate and value workers is also apparent in care homes, which house people with complex health and social care needs such as dementia. A well-trained workforce is the key to making better patient-centred care, and improvements are needed in this area in the next few years.
The focus on improvements to the care industry must focus on more than just acute care. Technology for health has become an important part of all the NHS sub-sectors. These include:
Some of the challenges to be faced in all sectors include training healthcare workers and improving interoperability among healthcare providers. This means exchanging data quickly and securely among internal and external providers.
One of the big questions the U.K. has to face in the next few years is whether the NHS is still fit and able - and prepared - to deal with an ageing population in the U.K. There are as few as one geriatrician per 8,000 older people in the U.K. With specialists ageing and possibly needing geriatric care themselves, there could soon be a shortage of trained workers in the field of elderly care.
The pandemic has made many people more comfortable with using technology solutions for medical care and care needs. It became apparent during the pandemic that people were looking for, and comfortable using, low-contact solutions to the need for healthcare.
Even though the future holds some challenges, there continue to be exciting new developments in technology for health. A better future in quality adult care in the U.K. requires addressing the challenges being faced and taking full advantage of new advancements in technology. This preventative approach will lead to a reduced cost burden to the NHS, lower social care costs, lower economic impact on society and a better quality of life outcome for patients - and the healthcare ecosystem.