Contemporary issues

Digital health in the future of the NHS

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Credit: ‘nhsprofessionals.nhs.uk’

A lot these days is done digitally; we can print bank statements by logging onto a computer, order shopping online and now even pop on a virtual reality headset to view “StockCity” where traders can buy and sell shares.

Medical services in the UK, by comparison, have been lagging behind but it is now dawning on the NHS that the future is digital. However there are several things to consider when introducing IT to aspects of the medical industry but the potential benefits outweigh most fears.

A consultation via email would be able to save time and money but doctors would need to implement this properly – something they may need to be taught. Not every doctor or nurse is as savvy with a computer as they are with scalpel and replacing a simple pen and paper note with a screen of drop-down options may cost the healthcare professionals valuable time.

Traditionally a doctor or nurse would be required to travel to a patient’s home to give them advice, reassure them or help with a problem they’re having each time the patient has a health problem or query. Alternatively, imagine the patient has a button at home they can press and will be immediately in contact with a health professional who can advise them and save both staff and patient time and the NHS money.

Initiative shown by Yeovil District Hospital has seen a 42% reduction in emergency admissions in 2015. The hospital, aware of demands of a growing elderly population, worked out which patients were being strains. They found that just 4% of the locals were consuming almost half of their budget and chose to install equipment into the homes of these people and employ “health coaches” to manage phone calls with these patients and provide advice.

There are already several mobile applications on Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store that offer medical expertise to save emergency care for those who need it most. MyOxygen Mobile has developed an application called ‘My Local NHS’ which is designed to provide people with information and also save health professionals’ time, much like with the equipment installed into the homes in Yeovil.

This kind of technology will never be able to replace the hard-learnt expertise of a doctor but does offer reassurance as the information given on the application has been supplied by several medical professionals.

Electronic prescriptions are also a new service being promoted by the NHS, it allows GPs to send patient’s prescriptions directly to a chosen pharmacy. A key benefit of this is that the patient wouldn’t be required to pick up their paper prescription and take it to their pharmacy but simply pick their medication up from the pharmacy each time they’re required.

NHS director Tim Kelsey claimed, at an EMC event two years ago, that digital prescriptions are only commissioned in 12% of UK hospitals despite evidence that it could be capable of saving over 20,000 lives a year.

It is uncertain what role digital health will play in the future of the NHS, there is a complex picture with a wide horizon for benefits and downfalls. There is a risk in forcing the UK’s health care to implement digital technologies but the positives appear great and perhaps the NHS is already taking steps to realise these benefits.

The main goal, besides more lives being saved, naturally, is the potential that the NHS could improve health care but also save money and bring benefits to patients and staff – something that has often seemed impossible.

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