Zillah Moore, Director at Tunstall Healthcare

How tech will be the key enabler

Zillah Moore, Director at Tunstall Healthcare discusses the impact that technology has had on healthcare, its role in safeguarding our services during COVID-19, and the benefits that technology has provided.

The NHS and the healthcare industry has been irrevocably changed by the COVID-19 crisis.

Over the past few months, the UK’s healthcare workforce has worked harder than ever to supply consistent care to vulnerable people, whilst also coping with the increased pressure on services due to the influx of COVID-19 patients.

The pandemic has emphasised the acute requirement for greater modernisation of healthcare provision, and technology enabled care services (TECS) have, and will continue to, play a major role in highlighting and supporting this development.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, technology was a key feature of the NHS’ Long Term Plan, which set out ambitions for the improvement of the healthcare system and its services over the next decade.

The plan highlighted the important role of technology in supporting better healthcare provision, by enabling a greater emphasis on person-centred and proactive care. Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM), for example, allows clinicians and other stakeholders to monitor vulnerable people in real-time remotely, confirm whether a user is at risk and have objective information to inform the specific care they require.

We also saw development in the understanding and recommendations of how technology should underpin and be integrated into healthcare. This included greater connectivity between health and care professionals, improved communication channels between clinicians and the vulnerable people they support, and easier access for people requiring care. We were beginning to see healthcare leaders driving digital transformation forward, and adopting technology such as websites, apps and enhanced computer systems.

How has COVID-19 affected the digital healthcare landscape?
While the impact of the pandemic has had significant negative impacts on daily life and many elements of the healthcare sector, it has also placed a spotlight on the role of technology in safeguarding services, and its potential in a post-COVID world, leading to rapid acceleration of adoption.

NHS healthcare service providers and decision makers within the Foundations and Trusts are recognising that technology can offer remarkable benefits through wider and more effective deployment, as well as through more advanced proactive approaches.

Technological initiatives, which would previously have taken months to become operational have been established and mobilised within weeks.

Greater application and integration of technology will allow the healthcare sector to redevelop, which is currently one of the key challenges faced by providers. This would deliver significant benefits, not only in improving patient outcomes and the quality of service-user experiences, but also in delivering cost avoidance, as demonstrated during the pandemic.

Remote health monitoring services also enhance the prevention agenda and enable care to become more predictive and proactive, reducing the need for more complex, and often expensive, care later down the line. It also enables greater flexibility in terms of where care is delivered. For example, more people are able to access the care they need at home or in their community, rather than having to visit a hospital or clinic.

TECS not only benefits clinicians and end users, but supports staff in the continued delivery of care. Remote solutions have reduced the added pressures on staff by enabling ongoing care provision for vulnerable people with complex requirements, and the need for face-to-face contact has been reduced, therefore keeping both service users and staff safe from infection.

Technology connects people; it enables integrated care provision and empowers people to manage their own health and wellbeing. It must play a pivotal role in the way we remodel services in a post-Covid-19 world to create a true ‘healthcare’ system.

Looking ahead
In order to safeguard our services for the future and protect the UK’s most vulnerable people, healthcare must receive greater support to truly become technologically enabled. The Government must not only support the digital infrastructure to assist providers in switching over to TECS platforms, but it should also ensure a minimum technology standard across healthcare services.

Providers must work together to develop innovative models of care, which support more efficient care delivery and long term efficiencies, and it’s crucial that we see greater collaboration between the NHS and third sectors to enable further independent living.

While the adoption of technology increases, this will only benefit the healthcare sector so far unless the workforce is digitally upskilled. This should be considered a priority so that the transformational benefits of digital technology are realised during COVID-19 and beyond. This can also be achieved through the evaluation of TECS and their impact so that providers can truly understand why technological integration is crucial.

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