Technology is everywhere reshaping our lives but what is the impact of technology in healthcare? Former Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell believes that healthcare is lagging behind this trend. Writing in the foreword to a new report on the benefits of Technology-Enabled Care Services published by PPP (Public Policy Projects, a think-tank), Dorrell says that the reasons healthcare trails other sectors are “complex and intertwined”. They include, he argues, fragmented health and care structures, limited resources, and reluctance to change. “Yet”, he says, digital health has the potential to transform our lives and could make a significant contribution towards the ultimate goal of preventative healthcare.”
The impact of technology in healthcare is bringing new and innovative solutions to the medical field. The PPP report sets out many ways in which Technology-Enabled Care Services (or ‘TECS’) are already benefiting patients. It is helpful in defining and categorising the sometimes bewildering range of measures in this field. ‘Telecare’ is described as the process of monitoring activity to identify when changes occur (e.g. someone has fallen over at home). ‘Telehealth’ includes the monitoring of vital signs such as blood pressure and oxygen levels, while ‘Telemedicine’ involves using video and other technologies to conduct remote consultations.
The rise of telehealth services allows medical professionals to consult with patients from a distance, leading to improved access to care for those in remote or underserved areas. As we look towards the future, it’s clear that these advancements will continue changing how we approach healthcare. With emerging technologies like AI and machine learning being integrated into existing systems even further improvements can be expected soon enough.
Technologies such as smart doorbells or voice-activated software fall into another category – ‘assistive technologies’.
Why are healthcare organisations slow to adopt new technology?
It is when the report comes to the barriers to the adoption of TECS however, that it is most interesting. Perhaps the most persuasive reason given for healthcare’s slow uptake of technology are the cultural challenges. The report refers to the health and care sectors being traditionally risk averse, which makes them slow to adopt new approaches. “As a result”, the report says, “adoption and spread of new technologies can take a long time, with each locality insisting on its own pilot or proof of concept”.
Linked to this is what the report refers to as “sector fragmentation”. The 2019 ‘Topol review’ into preparing the healthcare workforce to deliver the digital future is quoted. That report referred to the “challenge of getting the buy-in required from a multiplicity of NHS stakeholders in order to embed telehealth within complex local health economies in such a way as to exploit its cost-reducing potential”.
It is, perhaps, slightly perplexing, that issues of risk aversion and fragmentation are so prevalent in the UK. The NHS is, after all, famous for being one of the largest and most centralised organisations in the world. Nevertheless, this problem does ring true. Healthcare is, by its nature a conservative profession, and in an organisation as large as the NHS there is a tendency for a premium to be put on not standing out too far from the crowd.
A related concern that the report identifies is the lack of an evidence base for TECS. It says that “whilst many commissioners and purchasers recognise that TECS has the potential either to save costs – or at very least prevent expenditure – there is a limited evidence base to build a use in a business case for change”.
It is striking how circular these issues are. This suggests that, if we are not to lag behind in taking the opportunities that technology offers, a mechanism needs to be found for giving new approaches a try. The recommendations in the report are slightly unconvincing, however. They refer, rather vaguely, to “government support”, “innovative funding models” and including technological awareness in CPD training.
Perhaps a better approach might be to learn from the experience that the NHS has gone through during Covid. New approaches were adopted because they had to be – a culture of carrying on doing the same thing, the same way as it had always been done, was simply not acceptable.
A demand for digital healthcare
There has been a significant increase in interest, demand and uptake of digital healthcare. Tech companies, clinicians and patients are all noticing the road to digitisation. Unsurprisingly, all want to be on it.
The growing support is welcomed by most. Technology is not new, but it will be a new addition to healthcare. Recent stories have focused on the numerous fax machines within NHS hospitals and the stacks of paper records. Where other industries have been ‘going paperless’ and embracing cloud services, the NHS has had other challenges to face such as the ageing population and staffing shortages.
When you think about it, personalised applications for healthcare have been present for years. The Fitbit was launched in 2007, encouraging users to become more active. The ‘Health App’ on the iPhone has been there since 2014, tracking daily steps, and more recently, GP applications such as Push Doctor and Babylon have come to the forefront. Technology is creating an environment where it is simple and easy to take charge of your own care, wherever you are.
Many of these online services have evolved from organisations with a significant history in healthcare, and are managed by and employ former or current NHS staff and clinicians. Despite this, they are operating in a new form, and regulators are playing catching-up. The challenge by Babylon to the Care Quality Commission inspection report publication was based on their view that the CQC had significant shortcomings in its ability to regulate innovative services. Interestingly, the CQC has been given powers by the Department of Health specifically designed to address this by rating GP apps to “bring increased transparency” about their quality and safety.
However, current NHS IT systems are varied, and some are reported as being clunky and difficult to use. In July 2017 a story broke that doctors were using Snapchat to send patient scans to colleagues. This instantly raised concerns surrounding the security of patient data but also shows that clinicians need – and expect – more sophisticated systems in the workplace. As the Liberal Democrat MP Dr Julian Huppert, said: “The digital revolution has largely bypassed the NHS”.
In the field of conducting healthcare investigations, I know that many organisations use a Word template that they keep track of on an Excel spreadsheet. For a typical NHS trust, which has dozens of investigations going on at a time, this falls so short of the best that can be achieved with a system like Eva (https://www.evaapplications.com) that it can only be a matter of time before things change. Let’s hope that reports like this help to speed up the process of ensuring that healthcare reaps all the benefits that it can from the rapidly developing technology sector.
Revolutionising technology in healthcare
Public mistrust over the use of health data, and the political punchbag of privatisation also hang-heavy. Given this, an actual or perceived misdiagnosis or safety issue from a GP offering an online consultation rather than in a physical room will be given far more prominence by the media, politicians and ultimately the regulators.
To secure the many positive aspects of being ‘disruptive’, those driving the use of online health services and artificial intelligence have a tough challenge ahead. They must invest more, and be seen to invest more, in essential training, proactive diagnosis, and robust governance processes and policies to give innovation the time and space it needs to succeed.
There has recently been a push for updated systems from the government, healthcare clinicians and patients. More patients signed up to online GP services for convenience and Scotland announced a national update of Microsoft systems and the promise of migration to the latest technologies in the NHS.
Here at Verita, we welcome the growing demand for digital healthcare within the NHS and independent healthcare providers. With the goal in improving overall patient safety and quality of care, Verita is proud to have launched a new brand of healthcare technology called Eva.
The first technical application within the brand, Eva investigations, is an application for clinicians and managers in healthcare organisations to investigate serious incidents. Currently, there are circa 65,000 incidents per year that are within the moderate or severe harm category and therefore must be investigated. Front line staff are doing these investigations on top of the day job, with limited access to training and resource. We have built Eva to ensure that these important investigations are carried out to the highest standard and that staff are supported along the way.
This cloud-based technology also meets the highest levels of data protection standards set by the UK government today, so users and patients can rest assured that their data is protected.
Electronic Health Records
Electronic health records have become a standard in many healthcare systems, allowing for seamless communication between providers and improving overall efficiency. The future holds even more promise with the integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning in medical decision-making processes. These advancements will lead to improved diagnosis accuracy, better patient outcomes, and a revolutionised approach to healthcare delivery.
Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are a perfect example of the impact of technology in healthcare and the opportunities it presents. Integration of patient data from multiple sources is now made possible, allowing for a more comprehensive view of an individual’s health history. This increased interoperability among EHR systems enables seamless data sharing and communication between healthcare providers, resulting in better quality care for patients.
EHRs allow for seamless data sharing and personalised treatment plans, revolutionising the future of medical technology. With AI integrated into EHR systems, it can provide personalised treatment plans based on a patient’s specific needs and medical history. The future looks bright as we continue to leverage technology to improve healthcare outcomes for all individuals.
Healthcare Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are transforming the medical industry, advancing disease diagnosis, and treatment plans. Precision medicine is now possible with tailored treatments based on genetic data. Automated image analysis in radiology has resulted in faster and more accurate diagnoses for patients.
Virtual and Augmented Reality in Healthcare
The impact of technology in healthcare is also highlighted by the adoption of virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR). One of the most promising uses is training healthcare professionals. VR/AR simulations offer a safe and controlled environment to practise complex procedures without risking patient safety. This technology can also be used to train medical students, allowing them to gain hands-on experience before ever working with patients.
Remote consultations using VR/AR could greatly improve access to healthcare for those living in rural or underserved areas. With the ability to virtually connect with physicians and specialists from anywhere in the world, patients can receive timely care without having to travel long distances.
Impact of technology in healthcare – challenges to overcome
When considering the impact of technology in healthcare and its uptake by organisations, one of the challenges to overcome is data privacy and security. With an increasing amount of sensitive patient information being stored digitally, it’s crucial that healthcare organisations have robust security measures in place to safeguard against breaches and cyber attacks. This requires ongoing investment in cybersecurity tools, regular staff training on best practices for data protection, and a commitment to staying up-to-date with evolving threats.
Another challenge facing the future of technology in healthcare is interoperability and standardisation. In order for different systems to communicate effectively with each other, there needs to be a shared language or set of standards that they all adhere to. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case – many electronic health records (EHRs) are proprietary systems that don’t play nicely with others. Achieving true interoperability will require collaboration across stakeholders within the industry as well as political will from regulators who can enforce common standards.
The impact of technology in healthcare offers endless opportunities for both patients and healthcare providers. Patients can now access personalised care, real-time monitoring, and remote consultations that improve health outcomes. Healthcare providers benefit from increased efficiency, reduced costs, and improved accuracy in diagnosis and treatment.
Collaboration between tech companies, policymakers, physicians, and patients is essential for successful implementation of future technology in healthcare. By working together towards a common goal- ensuring quality healthcare delivery with cutting-edge technology – we can revolutionise the way we approach medical care.
Now that the NHS has the increasing support for digitisation from the government, clinicians and patients themselves, we look forward to the year ahead and the growth of our own brand, Eva, in the healthcare sector.
At Verita, we have a long and successful history of working with healthcare organisations to make improvements through investigation, training, and development throughout both the NHS and the private sector. Our clients range from primary care providers through to specialist service providers.
To find out how Verita can help your organisation understand and embrace the impact of technology in healthcare, please book a free consultation or contact our Ed Marsden on 020 7494 5670 or [email protected].
This article was originally published on 21 October 2020 and was updated on 12 July 2023.