Technology holds the key to NHS transformation

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By Paul Midgley Oli Hudson

How technology holds the key to NHS transformation helping hard-pressed clinicians work smarter as the Government grapples with staff recruitment challenges.

In their General Election manifesto, the Tories pledged to provide 50,000 more nurses, 6000 more GPs and 50 million more GP surgery appointments each year as part of ‘the biggest cash boost for the NHS for a generation’.

The number of nurses promised may have changed since then, but the recruitment challenge remains the same. Increasing the workforce will take time. Also, given that many new staff are expected to come from overseas, Brexit is a major hurdle; notwithstanding the Tories’ General Election manifesto promise of a new ‘NHS visa’ to make it easier for doctors and nurses from around the world to work in the UK.

To mitigate the problem, the NHS needs to improve patient pathways so they can be better managed by its existing workforce. The use of digital technology – which forms a central plank of the NHS Long Term Plan – will be accelerated to make this happen.

NHSX, the NHS’s joint organisation for digital, data and technology, will be a key enabler. For example, it has been tasked with supporting the uptake of digital initiatives, such as Local Health and Care Records, which help healthcare professionals (HCPs) to access joined-up patient information quickly and efficiently.

Long Term Plan commitments

The NHS Long Term Plan has pledged that ‘digitally-enabled’ primary and outpatient care will become mainstream across the NHS over the next five years. As part of this, all patients in England will have access to online consultations by 2022-23 and the ‘right’ to switch to ‘digital first’ GP practices. Babylon’s GP at Hand, which launched in London, was the first of these kinds of services and it has since expanded into Birmingham.

The NHS Long Term Plan envisages a similar expansion of online consultations in secondary care in a bid to avoid a third of all hospital outpatient appointments within five years. Screening and diagnostic services will be increasingly provided in the community and some hospitals have already demonstrated how they can successfully engage with patients online and monitor their progress at home.

For example, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust has extended its use of video consultations to a range of specialties; while Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust remotely monitors gestational diabetes to track glucose levels.

Engaging with patients online and monitoring conditions remotely can enable HCPs to take more proactive and preventative measures. It also helps patients better manage their condition and take more control of their health. Overall, this can help to reduce the need for face-to-face contact with GPs and practice nurses and cut outpatient appointments and hospital admissions.

As HCPs grow accustomed to engaging with patients via a variety of digital platforms, pharma must ensure that its own communications strategy meets its customers’ evolving needs. Engaging with HCPs via different online channels and in a variety of formats will be essential, particularly as technology paves the way for more HCPs to work remotely, making face-to-face meetings harder to secure.