Intelligent technologies: transforming the NHS from cost to care

Justin Hall, vice president and general manager of EMEA at iRhythm Technologies, reveals how intelligent technologies can support the NHS in improving clinical accuracy, while lowering the overall cost of care

Intelligent technologies are helping to improve patient care

The recent news agenda has been heavily focused on innovations across the healthcare industry, with a particular focus on the role that technology can play in improving patient care, while also tackling some of the sectors biggest challenges.

Last month, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced a £1.8billion cash injection for the NHS, with almost £1billion being made available immediately for new equipment and upgrades for 20 hospitals across the country.

Just a few days later, the Government declared a £250m investment to launch a new National Artificial Intelligence Lab, set up to tackle early cancer detection, modern dementia treatments, and more-personalised care.

With the health tech industry booming, and already-strained resources coming under increased pressure; it’s time we considered the role that intelligent technologies can play in supporting the NHS, through providing superior clinical accuracy and lowering the overall cost of care

However, these welcome developments also come at a point in which the average wait time for a routine GP appointment in the UK rose to above two weeks for the first time, with individuals now waiting around 15 days to be seen.

But, with the health tech industry booming, and already-strained resources coming under increased pressure; it’s time we considered the role that intelligent technologies can play in supporting the NHS, through providing superior clinical accuracy and lowering the overall cost of care.

Maximum assurance

Now tasked with seeing more patients in less time; healthcare professionals need assurance in the methods they are deploying in order to reach a diagnosis.

Part of the current problem, however, is that existing – and in many cases, outdated – processes are neither quick, nor completely accurate.

Take atrial fibrillation (AF), for example; a vascular disease that is known to increase a patient’s stroke risk by five times, and therefore contributes to just under one in five strokes in the UK .

The traditional Holter device, which is widely used to monitor for such heart conditions, often misses irregular heartbeats due to the short, inconsistent wear time.

With the number of personnel leaving the NHS because of poor work-life balance almost trebling over the last seven years, we need to find new ways of minimising strain, while ensuring patient care is not being compromised as a result

And, with an incomplete and unrepresentative data set, clinicians cannot rely on the information gathered to form a diagnosis.

This results in patients often having to schedule multiple appointments before an arrhythmia is discovered and managed – resulting in critical health impacts, as well as repeated pressure on the NHS.

Minimum strain

In 2015, the Government pledged to increase the full-time GP workforce by 5,000 by 2020.

Three years later, however, Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that the target was ‘proving difficult’ to meet.

And, more recently, record numbers of burned-out NHS staff were reportedly quitting due to substantial workloads, extensive understaffing, and rising demands for care.

With the number of personnel leaving the NHS because of poor work-life balance almost trebling over the last seven years, we need to find new ways of minimising strain, while ensuring patient care is not being compromised as a result.

Fortunately, modern technologies are being researched and developed at an unprecedented rate, with innovative health tech companies creating solutions that address multiple needs and challenges.

The healthcare sector still has a way to go until it can confidently say that it is making the most of the technologies available. However, that’s not to say momentum isn’t building

Cardiac monitors, for example, are now powered by the world’s-largest heart rhythm databases and can detect serious heart conditions with maximum accuracy, with poor signal and loose wires no longer causing critical knowledge gaps.

Whereas existing tools and techniques may have been designed for medical practitioners; those being produced today are being built with medical practitioners in mind.

These artificial intelligence (AI), deep learning, and data-driven offerings will not only allow for a more-accurate diagnosis, but also greater agility – freeing up time for professionals.

The future of healthcare

The healthcare sector still has a way to go until it can confidently say that it is making the most of the technologies available. However, that’s not to say momentum isn’t building.

The NHS Long-Term Plan pledges that every patient will have the right to be offered digital-first primary care by 2023, ensuring they can better manage their health and conditions.

If successful, this should also allow clinicians to access and interact with patient records and care plans remotely, with ready access to decision support and AI, therefore mitigating today’s administrative hassle.

The success of a healthcare system ultimately lies with the people, but that’s not to say technology can’t help.

As we continue to incorporate technology into every other aspect of our daily lives; expectations for the same possibilities will merge into healthcare, with patients demanding a digital approach to diagnosis and condition management

Staff are under strain and need to feel that developments are in place to make the digitalisation of the NHS a reality.

While the challenge is substantial, so is the opportunity.

As we continue to incorporate technology into every other aspect of our daily lives; expectations for the same possibilities will merge into healthcare, with patients demanding a digital approach to diagnosis and condition management.

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