How can healthtech alleviate the strain being placed on the NHS?

NHS England has announced that it will be backing a trial of new technology to cut missed hospital appointments, while at the same time pledging £1.5m in funding to support the spread of innovations across the NHS. This move is part of the NHS’ attempt to improve the efficient delivery of services by adopting tech and digital solutions.

While acknowledging this as a step in the right direction, Rohit Patni, CEO and co-founder of WeMa Life, is calling for the NHS to take a more proactive approach to the way it adopts new technological solutions, fearing that the latest funding pledge by the NHS is simply not enough. Here, he discusses why healthtech can help alleviate pressures on healthcare.

When it comes to public healthcare systems, the NHS is globally renowned for its safety, affordability and efficiency. A report last year found that of 11 public health care systems in advanced economies – including the US, Canada, Australia, France and Germany – the UK’s came out on top. However, as the NHS prepares to celebrate its 70th birthday, the weight of public demand for its services has pushed it near to breaking point.

Supply vs demand

Traditionally, the winter months have, typically, increased the number of patients in need of the NHS, with the colder weather increasing the likelihood of people contracting flu and viruses and suffering from slips or falls. Due to the influx of patients increasing hospital waiting times and affecting the delivery of care, the NHS winter crisis has now become an annual occurrence. The 2017/18 winter crisis was considered one of the worst on record and now there are real fears that the pressure experienced during these winter months could become a year-long problem.

In April, the British Medical Association (BMA) announced that the current state of crisis is likely to last into August. Indication of this was demonstrated in statistics released in March; analysing official data from the Health Department, the figures showed that just 76.4% of patients needing urgent care were treated within the four-hour target at A&E units in England in March – the lowest proportion since records began in 2010 and down on the 76.9% figure in February.

Why isn’t funding the answer?

The obvious solution to this problem is to increase the amount of funding being allocated to the public healthcare system, ensuring it has the resources and staff in place to meet current and future patient demand. The government has already been making proactive moves in the right direction, with the prime minister promising a long-term funding deal in order to deliver a sustained increase in available resources.

While this would, no doubt, deliver some welcome relief, funding alone is not the answer. Instead, the government needs to address the root causes which have forced the NHS to approach breaking point.

Identifying root cause

While the recent winter crisis – and the potential year-long emergency – is a consequence of increasing patient demand, a far bigger challenge lies on the horizon; that is, an ageing population. With The King’s Fund predicting that the number of people in the UK aged over 65 will reach 10.8 million by 2032 – a 39% increase over 20 years – the NHS needs to review its current framework and develop a strategy that caters to the efficient delivery of its services. This requires creative thinking, supported by a long-term vision.

How healthtech can alleviate the strain placed on the NHS

As part of any forward-facing strategy, the NHS must recognise the vital role that technological innovation can play in, not only the efficient delivery of services, but also in improving the general health outcomes of society.

Promoting a health-conscious society which avoids bad habits such as excessive consumption of alcohol and poor diet, while encouraging regular physical activity, will reduce the chances of people developing long-term health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Wearable technologies and fitness applications are already encouraging people to lead healthier lifestyles – WeMa Life’s research recently found that 28% of people in the UK now use health apps on a weekly basis, up from 23% a year ago.

The focus on preventive care measures through technological advancements means that patients will be able to lessen the impact they have on the NHS by identifying and addressing problems before they escalate.

However, healthtech’s applications are not only limited to preventative care. Across the UK, healthtech companies are transforming the way people are able to manage their health and wellness. Just as we have seen across other sectors, new digital platforms are offering people the ability to source, manage and pay for a range of health and care services, either for themselves or loved ones. Importantly, such innovations increase general access to private health and care services, while at the same time supporting service providers.

Empowering the patient through healthtech

A core pillar of the current NHS strategy is empowering patients to manage their own health. Recently, it was announced that patients would be allocated funds by the government to source the health and care services they need and to pay for their treatments. As part of this proposal, digital platforms are naturally positioned to empower the individual, improving the ease and speed with which a patient can access the required services from a third party.

Therefore, with the NHS facing a myriad of challenges, there must be a willingness from the government to embrace new technological solutions to empower the patient, improve general health outcomes and reduce people’s reliance on public healthcare services. Online platforms and apps have an important role to play, complementing any future increase in state funding by improving the delivery of services outside of hospitals and encouraging people to embrace healthier lifestyles.

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