Relentless demand: How can technology enable and equip health and social care professionals to deliver services remotely?
Digital technology has changed many other sectors such as travel, banking and retail, but healthcare has remained more resistant to disruption. The NHS faces increasing demand for urgent and emergency care, however much of this demand could be better managed. The NHS makes 110 million urgent, same day patient contacts available every year, of these 85 million are GP appointments and the rest are a combination of A&E, NHS111 and other patient contacts. The NHS estimates that up to 3 million A&E attendances each year would be more appropriately handled elsewhere[i].
There is an increasing desire to pivot away from same-place/same-time contacts towards more digital encounters that would allow greater flexibility and efficiency. Robert Wachter, has stated, “computers make some things better, some things worse, and they change everything”[ii]. This pivot towards greater digital contacts needs to be cognisant of both the opportunity and the risks.
Digital technology offers the opportunity to transform patient contacts by supplementing face-to-face consultations with more flexible offers that may better meet patient needs whilst increasing efficiency for the NHS. Most healthcare consultations are still offered at the same-time/same-place as the clinician, a move to same-time/different-place and different-time/different-place access to services is needed to transform healthcare. However, unlike other industries the risk in healthcare services is greater and must be appropriately managed.
Another useful way to characterise the different modalities of telehealth is to use the synchronous (real time) and asynchronous (store and share) communication model[iii]. Synchronous communications are interruptive with asynchronous communication allowing store and share. Asynchronous communications offer significant benefits for patients and health professionals alike. This would help to free up more clinical time for health professionals ensuring they are more available for direct care whilst simultaneously offering more flexible, convenient and efficient care for patients.
In healthcare, more is not better, better is better, and with greater clinically lead digital innovation, we can provide better care.
Synchronous and asynchronous communication
[ii] Wachter R, The digital doctor: hope, hype, and harm at the dawn of medicine’s computer age, McGraw-Hill education, 1st edition, 2015
[iii] Deshpande A, Khoja S, McKibbon A, Jadad AR. Real-time (synchronous) telehealth in primary care: systematic review of systematic reviews. Technology report no. 100. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health; 2008
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