Health April 14, 2020
The acceleration of digital technology within healthcare 

By Fabian Sutch-Daggett - World Healthcare Journal

As many of us have adapted to radical and brand-new methods of working and living, no sector has needed to operate more efficiently at this moment than the healthcare sector.

On top of the regular strains and stresses that the sector has to face, the Covid-19 outbreak has thrown global healthcare systems into turmoil, forcing them to move to new technologies and virtual patient solutions as a direct result of quarantine measures and patient safety.

The subject was discussed at a Virtual Healthcare Breakfast by Harpreet Sood, NHS England’s Former Associate Chief Clinical Information Officer and practising GP, along with Gordon Sutherland, CEO of Tunstall Health, and Richard Jones, President of C2-AI. Hosted by Public Policy Projects and World Healthcare Journal, the conversation focused on how the Covid-19 crisis has, and is, rapidly changing the way healthcare utilises digital technologies.

Kicking off the discussion, Harpreet outlined his personal experiences in the primary care sector as a GP during the crisis and explored how digital health solutions can assist patients, not just in the light of the Covid-19 crisis but also the immense applications that digital solutions will have beyond the pandemic.

“Two and a half weeks ago, I would have been seeing approximately 35 patients a day as a GP, with around 12 or so telephone consultations and the occasional home visit. But now nearly all of those 35 face-to-face appointments are online, whether that be through telephone or video,” says Harpreet.

“Some may argue that this is due to the unprecedented times that we are currently living in. What it really demonstrates to us is that a great deal of what we are doing in the primary care sector can be managed through virtual means - such as e-pharmacy, text messaging services, online triage or video consultation. ” 

A large problem surrounding further utilisation of new technologies within healthcare, or any industry for that matter, is the sheer amount of fear around implementing change.

However, so far the rapid transition from traditional methods of primary care into digital or online services has gone remarkably well, highlighting the fact that many clinicians, specialists, or even directors of healthcare facilities, were simply unaware of the ease through which digital solutions could be implemented into current and developing systems.

“In the past, the adoption of digital was a real struggle because of many complex and competing factors. What we’re seeing now with clear use-cases and people wanting and needing to change the way that they work, the uptake and drive towards digital has become very mainstream,” says Harpreet. “With that mindset, clinicians are really starting to develop critical use cases for where video consultation, tele-triage can work, and e-prescribing can work - and this itself is hugely promising.

“We’ve gone from one extreme to the other, so one of the big questions that will arise out of this crisis is which technologies will stick around. Through this tough time we will see what’s working, what isn’t, and how to best utilise our technologies in the future. ” 

Digital solutions for the international healthcare sector 

Naturally, the emerging real-life applications of digital health do not only apply to the NHS or the UK healthcare sector, but the entire global health ecosystem. As we move further forward through the development of groundbreaking technology at such a rapid pace, every health system, big or small, has the potential to benefit.

One of the most important aspects to consider is the effect this huge wave of digital will have on our systems “Post-Covid”. While some may consider it premature to speculate the impact that Covid-19 will have on our lives long after this crisis has passed, acknowledging how we can continue to improve and maintain the usage of solutions that have developed during this time is absolutely vital.

Gordon Sutherland, CEO of Tunstall Health, who is heavily involved in the digital applications of new technology for social, proactive, and predictive care, explored some of the potential outcomes and usage of technology to enable those in need to live safe and fulfilled lives.

In doing so, he  emphasised the duty of care that needs to be maintained towards elderly, sick, and frail patients. If I look at what our company and our competitors are doing across the world, the difference in the speed and delivery of care services due to universal adoption of digital solutions is incredibly significant,” he says.

“‘Post-Covid’, we’ve got to make sure that those in need are connected - this will bridge more regional divisions than we could possibly imagine. We need to be looking at how we can improve our populations with these digital solutions and new architecture once it is fully implemented.

“The integration of our health and care, which we started in the UK some time ago, will rapidly accelerate and continue to improve the way we deliver care and manage our resources. I’m very sure that the pace of change will increase, and the only restriction will be our imagination and willingness to change. ”  

Ensuring the effectiveness of digital in the hospital environment 

Hospitals, perhaps, stand to benefit the most from digital health. As in many countries, especially developing nations, hospitals are massively burdened, over-used, under-staffed, under-equipped - and sometimes very dangerous places to be, especially with the continuing rise in antimicrobial resistance and hospital-acquired infections.

More worryingly, all these issues have been causing havoc before the Covid-19 pandemic. The question is, how can healthcare providers continue to accommodate the burden of current stresses and Covid-19 simultaneously? The solution, or at least part of it, lies within digital health.

Richard Jones, President of C2-Ai, elaborated on the sheer strain that hospitals currently face, and how C2-Ai’s management systems and advanced AI solutions can help hospitals and other centres of care markedly improve.

“Our business, as usual, is in helping hospitals work better. We’re able to pick up around 90 per cent of cases of avoidable harm that go unseen in hospitals with our reporting and monitoring systems - which are built around the largest patient dataset in the world, using 120m patient records from 46 different countries,” says Richard.

“This solution, in terms of the numbers, is fairly startling. It could be deployed today, and by delivering it in the next three months, it could free up 11,250 intensive care beds. The improvement over the next 12 months could potentially save an enormous 225,000 lives - and with the crisis taken into account, that is actually a conservative figure,” 

“In terms of the impact of preventable conditions, such as hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP) or acute kidney injury (AKI), more than 1.6m bed days are lost each year in England alone. What’s worse, is this figure is likely to jump with the increase in ICU usage and overflow, lower staff-patient ratios, and a sicker case-mix of patients,” 

“We have seen improvements go as high as a 90 per cent reduction in AKI and a 60 per cent reduction in HAP alone in the UK hospitals where we work. In combination with the extra capacity this provides for treating Covid-19 patients, this digital solution could save hundreds of thousands of lives in the UK. ” 

What next?

As clearly shown, the benefits of further and efficient use of digital solutions is almost limitless. Digital solutions are no longer considerations for improvement within a health system - they are more necessary now than ever. The perspective of millions within the healthcare sector, likely billions in the world economy, towards new technology and digital solutions has changed in the blink of an eye.

And yet, whilst the Covid-19 epidemic will continue to strain the global health ecosystem for many months to come, and cause an unprecedented impact on the health of millions, we can find solace in the fact that the knowledge, solutions, and technology which will arise out of this crisis can continue to benefit us for years to come.


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