In the face of a damning CQC report and months of controversy surrounding the actions of Jeremy Hunt, we finished 2016 wondering what would happen next to the NHS. As ministers, doctors and senior managers look for ways to keep the NHS alive, questions around the capabilities and availability of new technology have been raised again.
Technology as a ‘Cure for the NHS’
The NHS is almost a victim of its own success as it copes with a population of 65.1 million, featuring an over-65 age group that has increased by 21 per cent in the last decade. Danny Buckland, Raconteur
Prevention is better than a cure – and this is a prominent area that Danny Buckland, writing for Raconteur, has identified as a hotspot where technological innovation can help. He’s not alone in this deduction. We’ve seen countless new fitness apps and general health trackers appear on the market, demonstrating that there is a place for this technology in people’s everyday lives. NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens is pushing for an accelerated up take up of new medtech devices, apps for patients with diabetes, heart conditions, asthma, sleep disorders, and a sweep of other chronic and lifestyle health conditions, that encourage and support a greater level of self-management.
Some of the world’s biggest tech players – Google, IBM, and Phillips – have started to invest heavily in research and development in the area, seeing an opportunity for a prosperous partnership. But is Westminster really in a position to respond in a similar way? As Ryan Khurana is quick to point out in his article for Mancunion:
Since even modest reforms to the system get criticised vehemently, politicians often do not take the burden upon themselves to address the NHS, instead hailing praise upon it and moving on to other things.
There is a lack of government funded investment in new health tech and a lack of vocal advocates for it in the commons. This has left a gap which independent tech companies are looking to fill. Technologies such as AI could reduce patient waiting times and increase doctors’ capacity. One such innovator is Babylon Health.
The Doctor in Our Pocket
Artificial intelligence technology is becoming more and more powerful, and will play an increasing role in healthcare over the coming years. Karen Livingstone, SBRI Healthcare
via Building Better Healthcare
Each trip to the GP costs the NHS £45. Considering the millions of patients who see a GP every week, this amounts to a huge cost. Add to that the pressure GP’s are under to keep appointments to under ten minutes, missed appointments and patients demanding a prescription from each visit, it’s clear to see why the NHS’ frontline might be struggling to cope.
Companies such as London startup Babylon Health have already identified this problem, and started the long journey to introducing technology to counter the issue. Babylon’s most impressive feat is their application of machine learning to provide diagnoses to patients via a free app. Using billions of data points collected from thousands of test consultations, Babylon’s AI can provide a diagnosis with 92% accuracy.
What this means is that GP visits can be avoided when an appointment isn’t urgent, and rather than relying on an internet search and self-diagnosing, users can be confident that they’ll receive an accurate diagnosis. Come April, Babylon hope that their new version will be the first robot to be clinically certified by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
The Role of Wearables
Access to doctors and nurses is at a premium. Our society simply cannot afford one-to-one care – snap40 changes that. Christopher McCann, snap40 CEO Via The Engineer
It was recently reported that the NHS had offered a £1 million contract to Edinburgh tech startup snap40. The startup’s wearable technology combines data-gathering with predictive analysis software and machine learning to monitor a patient’s vital signs through a simple device on the arm. If the system predicts a risk to the patient or classes them as being in danger, it will automatically alert clinical staff.
This is an application of two popular technologies – AI and wearables – to relieve the pressure on clinical staff. Unfortunately, as snap40’s CEO Christopher McCann pointed out, currently there simply isn’t scope for constant one-to-one care care anymore. Snap40’s system, however, means that constant monitoring no longer requires a physical presence.
Whilst patients can reap the benefits of AI doctors, preventative wearables and advanced monitoring, it’s also important to ask how technology can help the NHS behind the scenes. After December’s revelation that 90% of the NHS uses the outdated Windows XP system, there’s clearly scope for a new approach to IT and software within the NHS.
Part of this refreshed approach should include robust bespoke applications, built specifically for different areas and services, addressing their specific needs. Choosing a piece of bespoke software over an off-the-shelf solution not only provides better functionality behind the scenes, but also reduces costs long-term. There are no software licence fees to consider, no expensive extras and no unexpected price hikes putting the NHS at a disadvantage. With the NHS attempting to save every penny and streamline processes, bespoke software is a safe option.
What’s positive about ‘healthcare 2.0’ is that independent companies are stepping in to provide solutions using familiar technology, without forcing privatisation within the NHS. The likes of Babylon and snap40 have made it clear that tech companies don’t want the NHS to lose any of its autonomy. Instead, they’re focusing on protecting an institution which helps millions of people and serves to inspire other countries.
Although there’s still a long way to go until the NHS is out of crisis, with help from tech companies and their many innovations, it might stand a fighting chance.
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