Fact: Millions of people in the UK rely on the NHS for life-saving treatment every day.
Another fact: The pandemic put a huge amount of pressure on the already stretched service, and the fallout from that pressure isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. As of January this year, just under 6 million people were waiting on routine hospital treatment - a record high.
The past two years forced the NHS to act quickly to not only limit the spread of Coronavirus, but at the same time adapt to a remote workforce, and streamline processes efficiently, all while still meeting patient, visitor, and employee needs. And though a number of impressive new digital solutions have been implemented at speed, it’s fair to say that more work needs to be done to truly enable the NHS to provide the best service possible.
So, how can we take care of the services that take care of us?
I recently took part in a virtual roundtable with key leaders in the sector to explore how technology has supported agility and efficiency during one of the most challenging periods in healthcare, and how we can push digital transformation further to help the NHS tackle any future challenges (and opportunities) it may face.
How the pandemic forced the NHS into the future
Early on in the event, Steven Flockhart, Director of Cloud Engineering and Digital Operations at NHS Scotland, rightly claimed that the pandemic “pretty much changed everything.”
We’re not just talking about what goes on in hospitals.
As Fiona Edwards, Accountable Officer and Chief Executive of Frimley CCG and Frimley Integrated Care System, pointed out, a whole host of organisations needed to be able to communicate digitally, from local authorities to mental health organisations, GP clinics and beyond.
These organisations had to learn to be more collaborative, more efficient, and more agile than ever before to meet the demands of increased workflow and disjointed working environments.
With mounting pressure to mobilise its workforce, providing the right technology to allow employees to work from home where necessary was crucial. On top of that, fundamental healthcare systems had to be revolutionised in order to quickly roll out vaccines, arm front-line medical staff with technology solutions, and develop smart-phone apps and other digital tools.
Helen Thomas, CEO of Digital Health and Care Wales, made it clear exactly how significant the rate of digital transformation has been:
“The pandemic moved the digital agenda forward a decade”.
So, with no choice but to progress, what exactly have we achieved so far?
First and foremost, the pandemic sparked some incredibly innovative co-creation programmes. The Scotland vaccination programme, which was delivered within just six weeks, allowed 2.5 million vulnerable citizens to receive their vaccination within the first 14 weeks of rollout. Suddenly, the service found itself in a position where what would traditionally take years, took just a matter of weeks, all thanks to the right technology.
What the future holds for technology within the NHS
Yes, the rate of digital transformation has increased over the course of the pandemic, but the opportunities to take it even further are limitless.
Remote patient monitoring, new and improved mobile apps, and better virtual consultations are just a handful of offerings available to the NHS in the future, and the knock-on effects could be huge.
Think earlier diagnosis, better ongoing care for those suffering with lifetime illnesses, and 24/7 virtual support… The list goes on.
The use of remote patient consultations has increased in recent months, but there’s still work to be done to ensure patients are getting the same level of care that they would at a face-to-face meeting, if not better.
To make this happen, we need to start thinking about architecture. Video conferencing platforms must be made more robust and scalable to ensure we’re reaching everyone within the entire care system, making sure nobody gets left behind.
However, it doesn’t just stop there.
We’re likely to see many more medical apps in the near future. These will allow us to expand our omnichannel capabilities. Again, this enables the entire healthcare community to work collaboratively; patients, support workers, and medical staff.
From a patient perspective, this means a better service of care is provided. There’s a reduced need to travel to and from appointments, a faster virtual response time, and an ease of sharing information.
From a clinical perspective, more manual, labour-intensive resources can be automated, freeing up time and resources.
It’s a win-win.
During our roundtable, Steven drew parallels to the success of open banking within the finance industry, a tech innovation which provides third-party financial service providers access to consumer banking and other data:
“Open banking is an excellent example of what’s possible in healthcare.”
By giving citizens the power to opt in to sharing information at the click of a button, medical staff save time and resources, meaning there’s more room for real innovation and what really matters - top-quality patient care.
There’s no denying, it’s a challenging time for the NHS, but it’s also extremely exciting.
The service has a very real opportunity to push forward with digital transformation and make radical change, revolutionising patient care for the better, and we all owe it to patients to make that happen.
To discover more about the challenges and opportunities presented by digital transformation within the NHS, or to watch the full roundtable discussion, head to this page.
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