Almost nine out of ten (88%) of Scottish citizens believe the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart technologies will enhance healthcare delivery in Scotland.
This is one of the key findings from research commissioned by Capita on behalf of the Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN).
Increased digitisation and the use of technology could help reduce costs and alleviate pressure on healthcare services at a time when Scotland’s working-age population is expected to decrease faster than in the rest of the UK.
In fact, the research also finds that 84% of Scottish citizens said digital access to healthcare (e.g. online chat with a health professional, video appointment with a GP) is important to where they choose to live – further underlining the need for greater connectivity.
Jack Anderson, head of digital & innovation for SWAN at Capita IT & Networks, said: “In Scotland today, citizens are used to using digital technologies at work or at home, and this research shows that when it comes to healthcare, the expectation is no different. From video consultations to smart medical devices, Scottish citizens of all ages believe the IoT will improve healthcare across the country.
“In recent years, significant technical leaps have been made and there is considerable buzz around how the IoT will impact health services. With a robust and future-proof network in place, everyone in Scotland will have the opportunity to benefit from connected healthcare – including the one million people living in remote or hard-to-reach areas.”
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Given Scotland’s geography and dispersed population, there is strong potential for digital technology to augment healthcare.
The survey found that people in Scotland broadly have an appetite for change in how healthcare is delivered, with almost half (47%) of respondents saying they would use video link (e.g. Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp) to contact a healthcare professional, followed by an online chat portal (43%), a virtual reality nurse or doctor (20%), and a smart assistant or speaker (17%).
There were some differences between age groups in the results. Video was more popular amongst 18- to 34-year-olds (54%) than over 55s (43%), and online chat was also more popular with 18-34-year olds (52%) than the over 55s(35%).
However, one key takeaways is there is still a quarter (25%) of people living in Scotland overall who wouldn’t want to use digital technology at all to contact a healthcare professional, and in the Highlands, this was more than a third (34%.
Alan Whiteside, innovation consultant, research, development & innovation department, NHS Highland, said: “NHS Highland is keen to explore the clinical and non-clinical applications from enabling technologies – but research shows expectations around what technology can deliver are far lower in the region than the national average.
“This is not surprising, considering that in some Highland areas, residents struggle to even get 2G network reception.
Whiteside added: “However, through IoT and smart devices, we can identify deterioration in health earlier which helps shift healthcare delivery from being infrequent and reactive to frequent and preventative. As technology continues to develop, we have a great opportunity to develop disruptive healthcare services in the Highlands that could also help enhance healthcare in other regions of Scotland.”
The research also examined Scottish citizens’ views on using technology to monitor and treat patients remotely, with 88% of respondents believing connected and smart technology will enhance the care of vulnerable or elderly people – helping them stay in their own homes for longer.
When asked about specific technologies – such as a smart device like a pillbox that reminds a patient to take medication – responses were positive.
Nearly two-thirds (62%) would like to smart devices available in the future, 46% smart furniture, 36% an ingestible pill (e.g. medication with a tiny sensor swallowed by a patient that can transmit data to a healthcare professional), and 22% a nursing robot.
Furthermore, these technologies and can also support the treatment of chronic conditions in all groups of patients; for example, asthma, which costs NHSScotland £91 million a year to treat, and diabetes, which costs £1 billion.
Anderson said: “There are many compelling reasons to enable connected healthcare – from caring for the elderly at home to gathering data from the IoT, it can help policy setters identify health trends across regions and direct spending accordingly.
“This can keep people in Scotland healthier for longer while helping to relieve cost pressures. We’ve been working hard to address this through SWAN – offering a high degree of fast and reliable connectivity, and a secure and robust delivery framework for all of Scotland’s population.”
The Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN) was launched in 2014. It provides connectivity to approximately 6,000 sites across Scotland including schools, hospitals, GP surgeries, pharmacists and 50% of local authorities, with 250 unbundled exchanges and over 7,000km of fibre network.
The study, involving 2,000 adults from all regions of Scotland, was conducted in May-June 2019.