The current response to the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a clue into a plausible vision for innovation and transformation within the health service, by increasing the rate of adopting healthtech solutions. Notable case study across primary, secondary, and community care includes:
- The introduction of GP connects to all practices to enhance the secure sharing of patient records across primary care.
- The proper use of Al to predict a critical care capacity, staffing, and the equipment to use.
- The widespread carrying out of remote GP consultations, as remote monitoring is crucial for providing care to patients who feel vulnerable and do not want visitors to visit them in the hospital.
HealthTech seeks to provide remote education opportunities to upskill professionals. Also, it can alleviate pressures by allowing staff to work remotely and assist with administrative tasks, thereby creating time to focus on caring for patients.
The momentum for change through the innovations of technology has to be sustained as people adjust to the pandemic, where the NHS adapts to living with the virus for what is likely seen as an indeterminate stretch.
New norms are starting to prevail to control the spread rate of the virus. Such precautions are termed as social distancing and enhanced hygiene regimes. Technological solutions prove to be indispensable when it comes to helping the NHS and the general public adhere to newly imposed measures.
The virus has continued to persist against a backdrop of pre-existing problems within the healthcare system, as it specifically keeps mounting waiting lists and build-up of demand. Waiting lists are beginning to reach record levels in 2019, with the HSJ reporting the proportion of patients waiting for less than 18 weeks for treatment as the lowest level in a decade.
Also, cancer waiting times were recorded as the worst, with about 73% of trust failing to meet the 62-day cancer target. The wait for diagnostic tests was at its highest peak in over a decade, recording 4.2% of patients waiting for over six weeks as against the desired target of under 1%.
The fallout from COVID-19 has exposed and worsened existing issues in the NHS. According to an analysis made by the British Medical Association (BMA) between April and June 2020, it was found out that there were up to 1.5 million fewer elective admission than usual.
Also, up to 286,600 fewer urgent cancer referrals and up to 15,000 fewer patients commencing their first cancer treatment after an urgent GP referral. Figures from Cancer Research UK show that approximately 2.3 million fewer cancer tests have taken place since lockdown, as compared with the same period in the previous year.
The BMA asserts that the “drastic extent” to which the NHS had to shut down routine care is a result of more than a decade of underinvestment and cuts to various essential services. In addition to the pressures on the waiting list, more novel requirements were generated by COVID.
These requirements are in the form of infection control measures which can precipitate a productivity decline without the support of external focus. These include the need to keep vulnerable patients out of the hospitals. Also, it enhances PPE requirements and is a significant extra time for cleaning routines.
A popular question asked is how has technology been successfully employed thus far to support the system.
How has technology been successfully employed thus far to support the system? A direct response to this is that there is a basic need to understand the adaptations the NHS can achieve in a climatic environment of resource-constraints.
Another point to consider is the factors that can help to ease the burden on the system during the resurgence of the virus in the coming months.