Patient expectations on healthcare delivery are increasing
In today’s digital age, technology has transformed the way in which people interact with each other. We live our lives via digital technology – we shop online, we bank online, we organise our holidays online. The banking and retailing industries in particular have revolutionised the way in which they engage with customers. By comparison, the experience of accessing healthcare has barely changed at all.
As the proportion of the population using modern communication has grown, so has the concept of digital healthcare, and in particular “mobile health” (m-health). The simple fact is that in today’s modern age the expectations of how healthcare is delivered are changing. Patients increasingly go online for health information and advice, they self-diagnose and in some instances create their own treatment plans. Often they are also encouraged to post comments about their experience of care in hospital and GP practices. In 2010, a study showed that of those using the internet, 39 percent of users had sought health related information. Among those aged 55-64 the number rose to 44 percent. So the demand is clearly there, and this will only rise as technology becomes even more advanced.
The evidence suggests that with the technology available today, we have a real opportunity to follow through on the NHS’ self-care policy documents. Almost everywhere now uses integrated mobile phone technology as an enabler in their daily lives. This is a platform that can be used to reach a vast proportion of the population remotely, offering enough engagement to encourage them towards more positive behaviours.
Already there are great examples of how technology can be used to help patients manage their care. 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. Not only does this improve patient outcomes, it can also dramatically improve a patient’s quality of life, as clinicians can watch over them without the need for them to attend clinics or surgery appointments, unless there is cause for concern.
Furthermore, these technologies can ease pressure on the healthcare system. There are an estimated fifteen million people in the UK with long-term conditions – they amount to 50 percent of all GP appointments, 64 percent of outpatient appointments and 70 percent of hospital bed days. Remote monitoring can not only reduce the clinic time needed to monitor patients with chronic illnesses, but, by improving their own management of their own care, it could also result in fewer patients ending up in hospital. With around 70 percent of the total health and care expenditure in England attributed to people with long term conditions, a well-established digital healthcare system – that facilitates self-care in these patients – could really put the NHS back on the right track.
So how can the NHS achieve these aims?
In developing this system, the NHS needs to follow the lead of other industries and design its service around its users. Over the past two decades consumers have become increasingly involved in the design and creation of products and services and, by co-designing with customers, industries and services have sought to better meet their needs. By applying the principle to health and social care, patients can work in partnership with professionals to design services and care pathways.
Whilst the NHS has taken some positive steps in the pursuit of revitalising the system with digital healthcare, the true benefits of technology are far from being realised. At the moment, the technology out there is unconnected, single channel and costly. Until these changes, the healthcare service will constantly be on the back foot.
The healthcare sector needs to start managing the situation now, helping patients to self-manage aided by technology which is already available. Currently, we are headed in the direction of the first option, and that simply has to change. It is only through the use of innovative and effective digital solutions that we will be able to drastically redesign the NHS and put it back on the right path.
 The office of National Statistics
 Department of Health report