Comment: Technology is key to bridging our healthcare gap

Leigh Thomas, director of lateral flow services at BBI Solutions, explores how the complex challenges currently facing global healthcare systems are creating an opening for new diagnostic solutions

Leigh Thomas

With global health systems struggling to cope due to burgeoning demand, a lack of resources, and political pressures; there’s an urgent need for new solutions to bridge the gap between need and delivery.

A report by The Kings Fund, issued earlier this month, paints a bleak picture of an NHS at breaking point that threatens to be overwhelmed by a predicted flu epidemic this winter

It’s an international issue that is being exacerbated by global ageing populations and major health challenges, like the growing threat of antibiotic resistance (AMR) – which is currently responsible for 25,000 deaths and €1.5billion in economic losses every year in the EU.

With the plug fast being pulled on ObamaCare; many Americans are facing an increasingly-uncertain healthcare future; while in the UK, increasing pressure on the NHS is causing cracks to appear across the system.

A report by the authoritative English health charity, The Kings Fund, issued earlier this month, paints a bleak picture of an NHS at breaking point that threatens to be overwhelmed by a predicted flu epidemic this winter – with thousands of operations cancelled and services grinding to a standstill.

Meanwhile, the Brexit Healthcare Alliance has warned that a ‘no-deal’ Brexit that ends healthcare arrangements between the UK and the EU could end up costing the NHS as much as £500m a year.

There is no quick-fix to solve this complex healthcare puzzle, fraught as it is with challenges, competing agendas, and huge demand – but one thing it does offer is a fantastically-fertile environment for innovation.

Huge need for quality healthcare services delivered faster to greater numbers of people, creates a catalyst for change that is helping to deliver new approaches and ways of tackling some of the greatest healthcare challenges of our generation.

One of the clearest trends emerging is a focus on self care - with people increasingly becoming custodians of their own health.

Giving people the tools they need to safely, affordably and effectively manage and monitor their symptoms or do a simple diagnostic test from the comfort of their own home or workplace – is a highly-empowering and effective option.

Mobile technology is playing a huge role in the transformation of the healthcare landscape, with powerful new apps emerging with the capability to turn our phones into mobile medical clinics. Landmark apps are opening up the way for outstanding point-of-care solutions, that wouldn’t have been conceivable 20 years’ ago.

There is no quick-fix to solve this complex healthcare puzzle, fraught as it is with challenges, competing agendas, and huge demand – but one thing it does offer is a fantastically-fertile environment for innovation

With a single 10-minute trip to a local GP for a diagnosis costing the UK’s NHS £45, changing the approach to diagnostics is needed to enable people, cut waiting times, and free up valuable medical professionals.

Instead of making an appointment at a local doctor’s surgery, or worse, Googling their symptoms – we’re entering a new landscape where people could soon be able to quickly buy a test ‘over the counter’ at their local shop or pharmacy and get an instant diagnosis – just like a pregnancy test.

We predict a future where a simple lateral flow test, purchased over the counter – potentially in the same package as your cold and flu medication, could tell you if your cough is just a cough, or if you need to see a doctor. This would dramatically simplify the steps that currently stand between people feeling unwell, receiving an accurate, secure diagnosis and making an informed choice of treatment pathway.

This would be a game-changer for the healthcare landscape, and is one of many simple, but highly-effective steps that technology is enabling which have the potential to transform the way we approach universal healthcare challenges.

The development of new methods of treatment which enable people to take responsibility for certain elements of their diagnosis or treatment, in a safe and secure context, will play a major role in relieving the burden on our struggling health systems - utilising technological advances to deliver huge savings in time and convenience.

Continuous innovation in the healthcare sector is key to ensure we keep moving forward and developing and delivering new and better ways to meet population need

With the current uncertainty around national healthcare systems, advances in healthcare technology could also offer a lifeline to people who can’t afford the investment of time and money required to get a simple diagnosis from a doctor.

Continuous innovation in the healthcare sector is key to ensure we keep moving forward and developing and delivering new and better ways to meet population need.

In this sector, as in many other, technology is providing new avenues which promise to change the healthcare landscape irrevocably.

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