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Digitalising Healthcare in the NHS and beyond

Key points

  • Digital technology, such as electronic records, is being incorporated into healthcare systems but there is room for progress

  • It has the potential to transform the patient-doctor interface in two directions: from the way patients access healthcare to the way doctors get information from patients

  • An efficient digital framework would underpin delivery of medical advances

In a world of rising hospital admissions, an ageing population and increased demand for personalised medical therapies, digital communication technology is set to be our saving grace. Digital hardware and software solutions help increase the sustainability of healthcare systems by streamlining diagnosis and treatment, so it can be cheaper, faster and more accurate. Whilst direct technological advances in diagnosing and managing major diseases such as AIDS, cancer or diabetes have fundamentally changed our capacity to plan care for these conditions, it is the underlying digital communication framework that coordinates delivery of care to all patients. Improving these systems would go a long way to alleviating the growing burden on the healthcare system.

Digital communication technology has long existed in the back-end of hospitals and GP practices in the form of electronic health records, which facilitate efficient storage and sharing of patient data between services. Such record keeping has allowed the evolution of resources such as the General Practice Research Database, which has been an incredible conduit for public health research into disease trends and the impact of guidelines. However, implementation of a singular record keeping service is still a long way off. GP practices across the UK are fragmented between EMIS, SystmOne, iSOFT and INPS and whilst their interoperability is improving, data can still be lost and patients often find themselves having to provide a history from scratch.

More novel approaches such as the ‘GP at hand’ service, on the other hand, look to harness the use of smartphone technology to provide rapid patient consultation and, as such, increase patient turnover and efficiency. Their app allows you to have a video consultation with a GP within 2 hours and to replay the video afterwards if you need to be reminded of the advice. It also provides a triage service embedded within the app for when you are unsure about whether you need a consultation. Whilst this service still requires the use of local surgeries for practical investigations, it is likely to prove both cost effective and convenient if implemented well and adopted widely. As such, it has received direct NHS funding.

Furthermore, technology can aid the delivery of healthcare in the comfort of a patient’s home. We could see a future where patient data could be gathered from sensors at home, mobile phones and portable monitoring devices, arming healthcare professionals with deeper and more profound relevant medical information than could be ascertained from speaking to the patient alone. This new information could make time-pressured GP appointments could be made enormously more fruitful. With the touch of a button the GP could access information about lifestyle, sleep-cycle, heart rate, BP and adherence to medications and thus make improved personalised tailored treatment plans.

Despite the enormous potential that a cohesive network poses for revolutionising modern healthcare, there are many obstacles to bringing the power of up-to-date software into the NHS. For one, the building of a digital network for the entire NHS will require considerable funding and enormous co-operation between doctors, software developers and healthcare managers. Furthermore, there are many privacy issues faced with the storage of all patient data in one centralised database. Critics also fear the loss of patient-doctor contact could too add additional problems into the provision of holistic care.

At Polygeia, we are looking deeper into the potential of digital technology to help push for changes in technology related legislation, and understanding the limitations and challenges faced could help companies design protocols that could help avoid foreseen pit-holes.

Further reading

From electronic health records in the NHS to 3-D printing of human body parts: how technology is changing healthcare -


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