25 September 2018 by Spencer Symmons
Having recently celebrated its 70th birthday, a health-check on the NHS reveals critical symptoms: painfully long wait times, hospital beds filling the hallways and staff stretched to full capacity all point to a service under significant strain. Faced with an ageing population and a sharp rise in the number of patients suffering chronic conditions, our health service is in dire need of transformation if it is to continue serving its purpose.
In a bid to save the NHS from collapse, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock recently pledged almost half a billion pounds to transform technology in the NHS in a bid to improve patient care and reduce staff workload. In his first speech since his appointment, Hancock cited technology as the saving grace to a struggling health service, listing digital transformation as one of his top three initial priorities.
Already, vast leaps in technology have proven pivotal in the transformation of core industries such as banking, travel and entertainment. Now, healthcare must do the same lest inefficient processes and overworked staff make matters worse.
In a recent survey from artificial intelligence company DeepMind Health, the NHS was named the world's largest purchaser of fax machines. Whether or not that comes as a shock, it serves to illustrate the dire nature of the situation in the NHS. While the rest of the world has been swept up in digital transformation, our health service is still heavily reliant on legacy technologies.
From long-outdated Windows systems to the 9,000+ fax machines or 130,000+ pagers still used in practices across the country, the health service lags painfully behind most other industries when it comes to communication. Further research from DeepMind found that frustrated doctors were now taking matters into their own hands, communicating with patients through apps like SnapChat. This in mind, it’s really not hard to see how the NHS is so frequently under threat of cyber-attacks.
Fortunately, a new NHS app allowing GP appointments to be booked and repeat prescriptions to be ordered is set to be launched later this year, and this will hopefully mark a new chapter for communication technology in the health service.
With increased investment, we can expect digital communication to replace outdated systems and improve efficiency – be it through video consultations that remove the need for travel or text message services for cancelling appointments.
The way that people access services has drastically changed over the course of the last decade. In the digital economy, we expect assistance on-demand; waiting hours for something is no longer deemed acceptable.
With improved funding, the NHS can take steps in promoting online access to their services and encourage people to manage their own health from afar. That isn’t to say face-to-face interactions will be phased out, but that today’s technology can help patients take a proactive approach in regard to their health.
The creation of the NHS digital app library is just the beginning. Thanks to the fast rise of IoT and wearable devices, almost all consumers can now collect valuable data about their health through the use of sensor technology – be it heart rate, step count, blood pressure or quality of sleep, for example. Together with their NHS doctor, patients can monitor their health and take steps to improve their lifestyle in order to reduce the risk of illness.
It’s no secret that electronic health records are a goldmine of useful data: the wealth of information they provide on patients’ medical history could prove pivotal to improving outcomes, reducing risk and enhancing the patient experience.
So far, however, lack of the right technical tools has held practices back from drawing value from these large pools of data. What’s more, integrity issues combined with a cluttered mess of data formats and incomplete records have made it near-impossible for practitioners to understand exactly how to engage in meaningful risk prevention and predictive analytics.
Fortunately, the development and adoption of AI and machine learning in the NHS could soon prove revolutionary in extracting and analysing swathes of structured and unstructured data in an accurate and timely manner. By introducing an algorithm to assess large volumes of information, it may not be long before doctors are capable of making real-time, data-driven decisions through the use of modern technology.
Of course, discussing the potential of artificial intelligence and sensor technology in an industry that is still reliant on fax machines may seem far-fetched. While the NHS has a long way to go in digital transformation, a surge in Government investment should help to set it on the right track.
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