With the struggling NHS making headlines on a daily basis, it’s difficult to know when the problems may end.
From strikes and calls for higher wages from doctors, nurses and ambulance staff, to shortages and long queues outside A&E departments, it’s clear that something needs to change.
In fact, a recent BBC Panorama investigation reported that over a third of all patients were waiting more than the target of four hours to be seen in A&E.
In addition, there were about 133,400 full-time staff vacancies in NHS trusts between July and September, 2022.
In an attempt to reduce this backlog and relieve the pressure on clinicians, some are re-thinking how care is delivered, seeking to take a preventative approach.
Identifying problems early
Experts believe about 4 per cent of the UK population are frail. However, this small proportion requires about 40 per cent of all hospital beds and GP resources.
Two pilot projects are currently running in Hull and Oxford, aiming to tackle this problem.
By bringing together nurses, physiotherapists, pharmacists and social workers, these unique hubs are designed to anticipate and prevent problems before a person considered frail ends up in hospital.
Patients can book a single appointment and access a range of different services, identifying problems early and then being prescribed the necessary treatment.
While these hubs are showing signs of success, with thousands of patients visiting over the past four years, rolling out this sort of programme on a national scale will be no small task, requiring significant investment.
The role of technology
These hubs are actually just one example of how healthcare systems could be redesigned.
We’ve already seen the impact of the likes of FitBits, Apple Watches, and apps such as MyFitnessPal.
This technology has undeniably been a force for good and made people much more aware of their own health – but there’s no need to stop there.
In a joined-up, digital world, the mass roll-out of at-home digital diagnostics technology would also enable people to proactively manage their own health.
Whether that’s keeping on top of an existing condition or identifying a problem before hospital treatment is required, prevention is the best form of cure.
The deployment of this sort of technology would allow patients to test for an array of conditions at home, skipping the delay of waiting for a GP appointment and subsequent referral.
As well as reducing the burden on already over stretched services, results of the tests taken at home can instantly be shared with the relevant healthcare professional and action can be taken accordingly.
A new way of thinking
Via artificial intelligence (AI) and smart software, the data collated by these devices can be shared with clinicians digitally, before a face-to-face consultation is required.
Not only will this reduce the pressure on healthcare providers and the long waiting times many have become accustomed to, it will also offer peace of mind to an individual who may be anxious about their condition.
Essentially, at-home digital diagnostics technology will provide a person with data about the state of their health in real-time, then relying on the AI to help make an informed decision about the results.
Whether that’s calculating the therapeutics or behavioural changes required to improve that person’s condition or administering a prescription, the whole process can be automated.
While adjusting to this new way of thinking may take time, as we saw during the pandemic when lateral flow tests became a part of everyday life, the population can easily adapt if there’s a clear incentive.
By transforming how patients access services and through innovative thinking, we can not only improve patient outcomes, but also help overstretched budgets to go further – making a real difference to patient experience.
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