Can digital health help rescue the NHS?

Whilst the NHS is at the forefront of breaking boundaries with use of technology, besides clinical breakthrough’s, it has been left behind with its use of the internet in comparison other sectors. At it’s epicentre is a patient driven initiative that responds to immediate health demands of local patients. With NHS budget constraints, patient targets were introduced to ensure efficacy. As a result, failing to meet targets results to large fines that for example of Barts Health trust have added up to as much as £50million.

Trying to meet these targets result in meeting short term goals but what are the long term effects? Healthcare professionals continued efforts to meet targets are diverting clinical teams to be more results driven . Thus less patient driven. Budget cuts further burden clinical teams and management, who’s objectives migrate away from patient centric care. As a result prioritising compliance and targets to protect their own positions.

These are mountainous challenges those on the front line of our healthcare face that put innovation on a back burner. But where does the internet fare in the NHS.

88% of adults use the internet, only 2% report digitally enabled NHS transaction with the NHS

The internet has historically been an area where the NHS has failed to capture its biggest stakeholder, patients. This is due to its ideas surrounding technology which can be categories into two areas. First, technology used on patients to monitor, diagnose and intervene. This varies from patient and glucose monitors to imaging and laboratory and surgical equipment. Second, technology that allows NHS staff to communicate, access and update patient records. This also includes access to X-ray’s, blood tests, etc…

The former involves scientist and healthcare professional in collaboration with engineers. At the heart is a problem being solved with clinical evidence that shows its introduction will lead to saving patients lives. Introducing the technology requires a business case by a clinical lead of a hospital department to the procurement team showing reasons to why a grant or money from the budget should be spent on this technology.

The latter is technology developed by experts of a variety of industries and sectors, who’s understanding of challenges and problems culminates from management teams of the hospital. As result leading to a gap of knowledge of challenges of frontline staff and patients. As a result contracting the services of an organisation that has the capacity to create a reliable heavy duty solution, that will require continuous marginal update and once in a while a total overhaul. This puts the same managers who have a vested interest in seeing a reliable technology that take on the magnanimous weight of the NHS, protect their positions whilst also held at ransom when the technology comes up for renewal.

Up until now, this hasn’t been a problem. The surrounding dialogue of budget cuts to the NHS won’t affect the further investment or upgrade of these technologies. But instead will affect the services on the frontline as such A&E units and wards of the elderly etc…

Its not the introduction of bloated state of the art technology that will save the NHS. Now that we are in an era where a large section of society has acclimatised to the internet, adaptive technology needs to introduction. Using existing availability of the technology, such as the internet, how can healthcare better interact with all stakeholders involved. This begins from the bottom up. That means at the very basic level, when patients book an appointment at the GP. If at that lowest level technology fails to be reliable, faith in the NHS falls. Continuing a cycle of spending on big projects that never materialise in change as a result a cycle of poor spending and budget cuts continue.

Adaptive technology puts stakeholders on the front line such as patients, doctors and nurses the priority to identify problems from which solutions can be developed.

With users widely educated accessing internet on the smartphone, tablet and desktops, how can you redesign existing processes between patients and NHS to develop effective, time and cost saving processes.

Thanks to digital growth in silicon roundabout, Old Street, a seed has been planted. The roots of digital health drive act as a catalyst, with interests of arming those on the frontlines of the NHS with expertise and financial backing to solve these problems. Now it’s up to those on the frontline, technology experts and entrepreneurs to speak to users at the heart of our healthcare to redesign and reshape how patients and healthcare professionals interact in the NHS. Leading to technology that can provide evidence clinical benefits or efficiency that will result in a trusting, compassionate NHS for all.