The digital healthcare industry: a prognosis
Right now, we are on the cusp of a digital revolution in healthcare. In today's digital age, technology has altered virtually every aspect of our society and our daily lives. We shop online, we bank on our smartphones, we buy our cinema tickets on our tablets, and in fact it's hard to think of a service which has not been transformed by the internet. It was only a matter of time until healthcare underwent the same transformation that we have seen in other industries, and over the last year interest in health IT seems to have peaked among healthcare professionals, the technology industry and, of course, patients.
The aim is to design technology that both improves patient care and the efficiency of the healthcare system as a whole. Already there are some great examples of health IT projects that are transforming healthcare delivery to these ends.
Remote monitoring technologies, for example, have been used to great effect to help those with long term conditions monitor and manage their illnesses with digital supervision from their doctors. This simple use of health IT means that patients whose conditions need close supervision do not have to take time off work, pay to park their car, sit in a busy waiting room at a hospital, and repeat this two or three times a month. Furthermore, due to improved treatment compliance, it improves outcomes and with fewer attendees in its clinics, the NHS realises efficiency savings.
The next step in digital healthcare is for projects such as these to be rolled out NHS-wide. For this to happen, the NHS will have to undertake an unprecedented transformation in its services in order to create a comprehensive standard for all digital health practices. Although challenging, this overhaul is necessary and, once it happens, the benefits throughout the healthcare industry will be great. In fact, measured in terms of efficiency savings alone, it has been predicted that the NHS could save £4.4 billion a year through the use of Health IT.
Creating a connected digital healthcare service will be the catalyst to innumerable changes and improvements in the healthcare service. Currently, the systems of the NHS are all unconnected; GP, hospital and pharmacist records are all separate. Using technology to connect these systems will allow the NHS to access all the data locked inside these individual systems and, with the information available, better allocate its resources to optimise care delivery. Furthermore, this data will help improve patient care. For example, with quick access to GP records, A&Es could treat patients far quicker, as they are able to base treatment on their medical histories.
The potential expansion for the health IT market once the NHS adopts these systems is huge, and the possibilities of what it will achieve, endless. For an indication of how technology will change healthcare, one has only to look over to the US which, as is often the case in technological innovation, is a step ahead in the adoption of health IT. In the US, 43 percent of physicians are already using mobile health technologies for clinical purposes. Moreover, the fact that remote-monitoring devices have the fastest growing revenue of any medical device sector suggests how fundamental health IT is becoming.
This demand for health IT doesn't stop at the Atlantic. The signs suggest that patients in the UK are increasingly going online for health information and advice. In 2013, a study showed that of those using the internet, 43 percent of users had sought health related information and, among those aged 55 and over, the number rose to 62 percent. What is more, the concept of health IT has taken off with the public – wearable devices, health apps and access to clinic information has become huge business – it is really just a question of when the UK healthcare industry will manage to meet this demand.
Increasingly health services are recognising that, in this day and age, consumers are not passive in how they use technology. As they have with other services, consumers will soon begin to demand the flexibility, freedom and comfort that digital health apps can provide them. Consumers expect choice, and how digital healthcare will develop is therefore hard to predict, as it will very much be led by patient demand and usage. The priority of the health service industry should therefore be building digital environments that facilitate patient choice.
It is undoubtable that technology will significantly change how we interact with our healthcare services and specialists in the near future. Remote monitoring, for example, will not be limited to select patients in individual trials; it's predicted that by the end of 2017, 7.1 million people will be using monitoring devices. And we have really just scratched the surface of what health IT can achieve. No doubt we will see innovative and exciting medical devices come out of the technology revolution that will transform healthcare as we know it. However, for digital healthcare to be successful, the NHS must provide a variety of health and care applications that don't sit in isolation from each other in some far off cloud, but are part of a connected care system designed and endorsed by professionals. Only with a system such as this will digital care be standardised, and the useful data from each application made accessible.