Healthtech in 2020 – what’s next for our NHS?
Ian Jackson, Medical Director and Clinical Safety Officer at Refero, discusses what the future might hold for tech in healthcare, in 2020 and beyond.
An ageing population, antibiotic resistance, an obesity epidemic, a backlog of property maintenance and equipment replacement and ongoing staff shortages, are all well-known problems the NHS will continue to tackle in 2020.
But when it comes to a strategy, all will depend on the result of next month’s General Election, though both main parties are vowing to spend billions to improve care.
The Conservatives have announced a £2.7bn investment for six hospitals over five years and £100m for a further 34 hospitals to start developing future projects. Labour argues the NHS is reeling from the tightest funding squeeze in modern history, which it says has left nearly four and half million people waiting for treatment.
Yet, NHS Providers chief Chris Hopson said “over-dramatising NHS difficulties” or making “disingenuous” funding claims did the service “no favours”, and he’s called for a “proper, mature, evidence-based” debate on what the NHS needs. I couldn’t agree more. To avoid tactless political point-scoring, I would like to see the political parties discuss innovation, and how emerging technologies could address the current problems.
Tele-consultation’s coming of age
I believe that tele-consultation will come of age in 2020, and will be used increasingly across multiple sectors.
In primary care, the old telephone reception model is no longer appropriate. The receptionist shouldn’t be the person who decides how the patient sees the doctor, that should be the choice of the patient. Using an app-based booking and triage process, the spokes supporting the patients of the wellbeing hub can be created.
In mental health, I think we will begin to see the increased use of teleconsultation and perhaps the start of the provision of group therapies using teleconsultation from one clinician to multiple patients. I also hope that we might see the smart use of software such as Refero to support the care of both chronic and acute mental health episodes by including support from the third sector. These organisations can use things like teleconsultation technology to allow them to work as part of the team with visibility of messaging from patients. This not only creates the ability to monitor cases, and hand-over to the most appropriate person to respond, but also the ability to escalate across current care boundaries. They can also have the flexibility to do this from any PC or mobile device. This is now possible, but requires cross agency agreements to get up and running.
Secondary care will also see increased use of teleconsultation. Refero integrates seamlessly with a hospitals clinical systems. What that means is that if you have an outpatient appointment, that automatically gets booked into the EPR. There is no double-booking, or manual inputting of data, it all happens automatically. With Refero, each tele-consultation is a one-time event. A patient can talk to the right person at the right time, in the right place.
However, this will require innovation when it comes to the contracting of services, given the current fee structure where hospitals are paid for outpatient attendances. There will be resistance to move to tele-consultation if it results in immediate reduced income, yet if the move does create long-term savings, then these need to be shared. It is time that the NHS, and our future Government, looks at digital solutions holistically, rather than as a point solution.
Digital solutions for a better future
Technology enables new ways of engaging people and connecting them with support services, improving and building upon more traditional ways of working to eliminate the possibility of vulnerable people falling through the cracks at the point where services crossover. I hope all political parties keep this at the forefront of their agendas, over the coming weeks.