The Rise of Technology-Enabled Care: The UK Perspective

Dr. Paul Grundy
Thurs 19 Oct 2022
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As a physician who has supported health and foreign policy for dozens of countries, I can attest that the UK does a much better job than most when it comes to treating its patients through a publically-funded health and social care system.

There is a technological revolution taking place in every corner of the universe. With the never-ending buzz around how the lines between healthcare, retail, and IT are beginning to blur, technological advancements like wearable medical devices, virtual consultations, and a host of regulated and unregulated apps have led healthcare towards its complete digital transformation. So far, UK healthcare has remarkably coped with the changing care landscape, thanks to the strategic, structural, and tactical finesse and willingness.

The pandemic changed the way healthcare has been provided across the globe, and the UK healthcare system suffered a blow. The following statistics tell the tale of struggle around the existing problems in the UK healthcare system:

  • 86% of the surveyed clinicians affirmed that they had encountered "terminal" patients as a result of late diagnosis.
  • About 34% of the patients had to wait more than 18 weeks for elective care procedures, and the waiting time is arguably one of the longest on record.
  • More than 5.8 million patients are a part of the overall elective care backlog.
  • About a quarter of the population will be over the age of 65 by 2039, and as per a finding, the percentage of the older population with a long-term condition has risen.
  • Beds per thousand people decreased from 4.1 to 2.5 beds from 2000 to 2018. While this is a byproduct of better primary care and outpatient surgeries, it poses challenges in combating infectious outbreaks.

But it's not apples to apples

With an unequal impact on different population sub-groups, the indirect effects such as significantly reduced use of and disruption to health care for non-COVID-19 conditions, such as cancer, the mounting backlog of care and the number of people with the undiagnosed disease, and the deterioration in people's mental health, the pandemic did act as an extremely explosive catalyst in transforming healthcare across the globe.

Earlier this year, Matthew Taylor, CBE FAcSS, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, noted, "It is clear that ministers and officials at the centre also recognise that the NHS's operating model needs to be reexamined." The statement highlights the most common flaw affecting healthcare systems globally—fragmented systems and disjointed care journeys. And we need to focus on them to ensure the UK maintains its position as the "crème de la crème" health system of the world.

From a bird's eye view, the fragmented care systems today need a solid foundation of healthcare technology to bring patients and providers closer. While no amount of technical sophistication can replace 1:1 human interaction, the right blend of technology can facilitate and prioritise those interactions as and when required to simplify workflows.

Like any other sector, healthcare also generates troves of data daily at each facility in each city and country. This data, if processed correctly, holds the key to enabling preventive care measures, optimising care costs, making time-sensitive decisions, imparting the right care at the right time, and unburdening care teams from the menace of a never-ending administrative workload. However, healthcare data doesn't diverge or converge into a single source of information, making it extremely difficult to work on or generate insights from, despite the best efforts.

The rise and relevance of health cloud platforms

What is a health cloud? Simply put, it's a virtual machine that stores, standardises, processes, and securely transfers healthcare information as and when required. They are powered by robust platforms that can work on the data from multiple platforms via pre-built connectors, making it easier for them to speak to each other.

Transformative digital adoption requires a solid foundation to build on. As we integrate new methodologies, technology, and medicine into care delivery, cloud platforms become the central infrastructure for care. It allows stakeholders to exchange information across the continuum via an end-to-end solution.

Let's imagine I am a Type 2 diabetes patient (about one in ten people above 40 in the UK are believed to be suffering from it) living in Belfast. For an official trip, I went to Manchester and ran out of insulin. Because my data doesn't follow me, I can't obtain my life-saving medication.

Now imagine a world where I can log in to a mobile app securely connected to my hospital's servers in Belfast and notify them regarding the same while also updating my last measured blood sugar level. The app logs the information in my digitalised patient record and recommends places to get my doses refilled based on my exact location.

Once I reach the facility and get the necessary prescription, their record also gets updated to my hospital's server. Based on my daily requirements and quantity in hand, the hospital sets an automatic trigger so that I get it refilled on time going forward. Whenever I go to my doctor for a preventive visit, they can access this entire journey and my historical data from a dozen different facilities in a timeline-like view.

They can also ingest and analyse my data with my permission to monitor my heart rates and exercise patterns. Likewise, they can fetch things like my Covid vaccination status as well as population-level insights from a centralised database, providing them with each data point that can impact my health. All such analytics are complemented by a powerful, AI-enabled approach to club existing intelligence with future possibilities.

Most importantly, this doesn't require any care team member to feed or analyse data manually. Every care protocol is ingested and visualised automatically based on pre-set filters and conditions. This enables my doctor to chart a personalised care plan for me, recommend the exact things I need to lead an ailment-free lifestyle, and ensure I always have access to my medicines when I need them.

Sounds really doable with the available technology today, right? That’s because it absolutely is. The only caveat is that we need healthcare-focused digital solutions which truly understand the language of care teams and patients, not the other way round, where care teams have to invest hours each month to learn how they work. Now, this is what a sophisticated, human-first health cloud brings to the table. While they cannot make up for the shortage of facilities, they can most certainly trigger the right stakeholders before it is too late for any care procedure.

Final thoughts

Imagine visiting a supermarket and paying for each item separately: one debit card swipe for milk, another for cereal, and more swipes for other goodies. That would be terribly inconvenient, right? The healthcare industry faces similar challenges due to its fragmented care ecosystem.

Let's be honest─spreadsheets cannot bear the load of the enormous healthcare data, and visualisation tools cannot conclude in real time if there are hundreds of data sources and millions of data points at any given time. This is why we need customised technology platforms to empower our care teams with improved access to disparate data sources.


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Tags: UK
Dr. Paul Grundy
MD, MPH, FACOEM, FACPM Chief Transformation Officer, Innovaccer

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