The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the way we live and work on its head in just a matter of weeks.
People have rapidly adjusted to their new normal - working from home and using conferencing apps and other online services to keep in close contact with colleagues, friends, and family.
In healthcare, GPs across the UK are using telephone or video consultations to maintain safe distances from their patients. In some areas, up to 95% of patient consultations are being carried out online or over the phone, according to GPonline. Attend Anywhere has been rolled out to every GP practice in Wales. Post pandemic, we’re likely to continue using such technology, and increase our use of telehealth and telecare smart technologies, to enable services to be provided remotely and ensure that patients, particularly for people in care homes or with chronic conditions, can continue to get the treatment they need.
Trends over the past decade have shown that our population is ageing. Tens of thousands of baby boomers are retiring and an increasing number of people are living with long term conditions, creating more stress in the system. In the future, there is likely to be a larger number of patients living with respiratory and other problems as a result of Covid-19. They’ll need ongoing care and will create larger case-loads for district nurses, who are currently struggling with the number of patients being discharged into the community. Research highlighted by New Scientist also suggests that there could be a follow-up second illness of post viral fatigue.
Smartphone apps and the internet of things can allow many people to maintain their independence, living in their own homes and self-monitoring their own health and fitness. As the Covid-19 pandemic reaches its peak, starts to subside, and the effects continue to be felt, we’re likely to see this connected approach to people needing care becoming more commonplace.
Telecare remote monitoring such as apps, blood pressure machines and devices that measure oxygen in the blood can allow people’s health to be cared for remotely, without introducing unacceptable clinical risk and with less exposure for vulnerable patients.
Home-based, or personal, technology fitted with sensors also provides a rich source of patient data, giving a more accurate picture of healthcare across the population and highlighting which groups are likely to need more care in the future. Coupled with predictive analysis, this will provide powerful insights that ensure better planning, making personalised care more cost-effective and improving outcomes.
Pandemic has brought new focus to the plan to boost NHS technology
Even before the pandemic forced the issue, the NHS was encouraging the use of telehealth and telecare within its Long Term Plan. In the future, home-based monitoring is likely to become normalised, with adoption driving costs down while, at the same time, increasing devices’ diversity and functionality. The Director of Public Health has made several recommendations in the 2019 annual report, including promoting the use of apps to manage primary care online aand to help people manage long-term conditions.
Staffordshire County Council has been encouraging contracts with organisations that can increase care capacity where people’s needs aren’t being met, by using innovative assistive technology.
Such technology is opening the doors to a new kind of normal. Past ways of working will not go completely - human contact will always be necessary for some - but the future has been thrust upon us through necessity and the benefits are quickly being realised.