The NHS needs to get to the heart of the problem before it can embrace digital health technology
Mounting pressures on the NHS
The state of the NHS as of late has been the topic of much debate, in particular, its future. While the best path for the UK’s health service is a bone of contention amongst politicians, what is certain is that the NHS is struggling and, as such something has to change soon.
A recent report from the International Longevity Centre has warned that, within the next decade, the already over-stretched NHS will be spread even thinner, having to support a million older people with chronic conditions. As people continue to live longer, we need to start seriously considering how to adapt the NHS to increase its efficiency, make it more cost effective, and ensure it provides the best possible standards of care.
Enabling self-care through digital health
In order to address this issue, the NHS is placing greater emphasis on encouraging and enabling patients to “self-care”. The Wanless review of health care funding (2002) showed that public engagement with health could help to reduce healthcare costs. Choosing Health (2004) looked at how information, services, retailers and marketers could make healthy lifestyles ‘an easier option’ for people. More recently NHS England in the Five Year View (2014) spoke of ‘increased prevention and supported self-care.’
The thinking behind these policies is simple. If individuals can be encouraged to change their behaviours and take greater responsibility for their health, they can avoid serious illnesses in later life, and therefore reduce future healthcare costs. This policy is especially relevant for those suffering from long-term conditions. By helping patients to manage their own conditions effectively, the degeneration of chronic illnesses, such a high blood pressure, into serious conditions, such as heart attack or stroke can be prevented.
The NHS needs to get to the heart of the problem
However, implementing such a simple idea in a beast as complex and large as the NHS is no easy task. Due to unprecedented funding pressures affecting health and social care, changes to the NHS tend to be, for the most part, incremental. Infact, more-often-than-not the policies and changes coming out of the NHS are reactionary, dealing with yesterday’s challenges rather than those of tomorrow.
Increasingly it is becoming apparent that the NHS’ problems are too great to be patched up by standalone measures. The NHS needs to get to the heart of the problem and make sure the system itself works. Therefore, a much bolder approach is needed. It needs to involve a major shift in where care is delivered and how patients and service users relate to health and social care professionals. In short, there needs to be a fundamental redesign of healthcare delivery.