Digital solutions in healthcare as we emerge from the pandemic

In a recent article, we highlighted the anticipated strain on the NHS and private healthcare providers as we entered the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was concern as to how clinicians will not only have to deal with the pressures of a pandemic but also how they would grapple with the continuing demand of non-COVID-19 patients. Here we consider the role of technology in helping to alleviate some of those pressures during the pandemic and its potential ongoing application.

An element which has assisted

The stepping up of the use of technology to facilitate remote consultations and treatment, for example via prescribing, has been one of the tools that has helped see patients through the pandemic. Social distancing and a reluctance to attend hospitals and GP surgeries has necessitated the adoption of technology by patients.

It has been reported by NHS Digital that there has been a surge in the number of people using NHS technology during the outbreak. NHS Digital report that 38% of people have increased their use of NHS technology since the start of the pandemic.

Visits to the NHS website and use of the NHS App, which is a simple and secure way to access NHS Services, has, according to NHS Digital, soared. By way of example, NHS Digital report that in March 2020 there were 119,512 registrations to the NHS App. An increase of 111% from February 2020 when there were 56,655 registrations.

Patients who have previously resisted use of such technology have, through necessity, made use of such services. It remains to be seen as to whether the adoption of technology that we have seen in recent months will continue on a similar scale. If so, then perhaps this will provide a route to assisting in the provision of pre-pandemic stretched resources.

A basis upon which to build

The new agreement struck between NHSX, NHS Digital and Microsoft, announced on 15 June 2020, will, as has been stated - “improve productivity, enhance collaboration and strengthen cyber security across healthcare services”.

The aim has been for clinicians to have access to services within Microsoft 365, so that tools such as Microsoft Teams allow for collaboration via instant messaging and audio/video calls.

Outside the provision of healthcare, tools such as the above have come into their own in recent months. Within NHS organisations and private hospitals the same has been seen. Secure transfer and sharing of information has been scaled up. Remote meetings now becoming common place. Providing support across different healthcare sites.

Disruption to healthcare services caused by the reallocation of staff and resources is not a new problem. However, this difficulty has escalated during the pandemic creating a real challenge. The investment seen in providing access to digital tools is a positive step forward, which it is hoped will lessen the impact of such disruption in future.    

Emerging safely with digital assistance

The question of what demand will look like in a year for the NHS is an interesting question and a difficult one to answer. However, if the aim is to meet that demand, in whatever form it takes, then digital solutions will be part of the response. The focus remaining on providing safe and effective care to patients.

Care of a high quality, provided in a safe manner, ultimately derives from the clinicians using such digital tools to assist. When creating and working with such systems the clear mission to provide safe care must remain paramount. There needs to be scope for learning so that the quality of healthcare improves, which includes empowering staff to feedback on their experience of using such tools.

Thereafter, the embedding of such systems used to assist with managing care so as to refine and build on the benefits is an important part of embracing these opportunities. Local clinical guidance is, we would suggest, vital when developing digital solutions.

Read others items in Healthcare Brief - August 2020

Related item: COVID-19: the postponement of non-urgent procedures and ensuring appropriate priority for clinically urgent treatment

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