Digital health has the potential to transform the lives of millions of people and make a significant contribution to the ultimate goal of preventative healthcare.
We’ve seen an exponential rise in the use of technology across society, and yet until recently the NHS continued to use fax machines, and domiciliary care workers were filling in paperwork rather than completing digital records.
Technology connects people, enables integrated care provision, and empowers people to manage their own health and wellbeing. The Covid-19 pandemic, in particular, has starkly illustrated the value of Technology Enabled Care Services (TECS). We are at a turning point in the history of healthcare, and the lessons learned during the pandemic must play a crucial role in the remodelling of our health and care services in a post-Covid world.
Over the past few decades, technology has reshaped almost every aspect of society and daily life. Every sector in the economy, from banking and shopping, to socialising, has invested in, and integrated technology to improve efficiencies and customer experience.
However, prior to the pandemic, the NHS and social care providers were lagging behind. Fragmented structures, limited resources, and reluctance to change had all led to our services struggling to provide effective care which met the needs of a 21st-century population.
Our ageing population and the rise of chronic diseases had seen pressures increase, leading to services and care provision which was unsuited to the more complex needs of a growing population.
Technologies which have become commonplace, such as voice-activated assistants, smart doorbells and WiFi-enabled household appliances, weren’t considered as TECS innovations and were rarely integrated into health and care systems.
For example, providers were only recently grappling with the introduction of a Personal Care Record where the information from numerous digital devices, and other interactions with the NHS and care sector, are held together.
The NHS has long had a replication problem where successful projects are rarely reproduced elsewhere in the system, leading to fragmented service delivery which was slow to implement positive technological changes.
The impact of Covid-19
Covid has broken down many barriers to technology adoption, and we must ensure the gains made aren’t lost. NHS Trusts, CCGS, and local councils are recognising that technology can offer remarkable benefits through wider and more effective investment and deployment.
The pandemic required rapid collaborative action to ensure quality care could be delivered to those with ongoing care needs, alongside the burgeoning number of Covid patients. New teams were built, technology adopted, new working cultures developed, and new approaches to solving difficult challenges implemented. All very quickly.
Technological initiatives which would previously have taken months to become operational have been established and mobilised in weeks. Solutions implemented during Covid-19 have benefitted a range of cohorts, including people living with mental health conditions, care home residents, and people living with long-term health conditions.
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Rising long-term health challenges, which have had an impact on the UK’s high mortality rate during the pandemic, and the impact of Covid-19 have also emphasised the need for a more holistic approach to health and care provision.
The NHS and social care providers must adopt technology to enable a service model which focuses on lifestyles, healthy behaviours, prevention, and enabling people to live independently for longer.
We have reached a turning point which has given us the opportunity to reflect on the changes that have taken place during Covid-19 and ensure we make the most of the speed at which technology has been implemented.
The value of TECS
Digital and medical technology continues to accelerate rapidly and provides new methods and insights which can enable greater ability to support individuals and populations in their health journey.
Not only can the digitisation of services improve models of care, but it can encourage the public to engage in their own health and wellbeing and provide opportunities to deliver community and person-centred care which is tailored to the specific needs of an individual.
An increase in the use of TECS, particularly for individuals who regularly use the NHS, will enable healthcare specialists and providers to work together more easily to arrange treatment and interventions that either prevent illness, or prevent conditions from deteriorating, and empower individuals to understand and manage their own health.
From improved experiences of those who require health and care services, and better health outcomes, to a lower cost of care, the value of TECS is almost unprecedented in its scope. The uptake in integration has highlighted just how much value TECS can provide for services and users, however we must galvanise the progress made so far to truly reap the benefits.
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TECS also provide benefits for staff and carers within health and care services. Not only do digital solutions reduce workload and benefit users, but they provide a greater sense of job satisfaction, reduced burden of travel, and a greater sense of reassurance that they’ll be alerted in the case of an incident.
Maximising the use of technology and using data intelligently, through efficient methods of data collection, will support commissioning and the delivery of high-quality services. A healthier population driven by technology has numerous benefits and is an investment in the future prosperity of the UK.
Cost savings and avoidance
The TEC Services Association conducted an evaluation across 39 councils which identified average annual savings of £1,163 gross/£890 net per TECs user. This was typically split 70% cost avoidance and 30% cashable savings. Clearly, there are significant cost benefits to investing in such technology, both in the short and longer term.
TECS in Scotland
Tunstall has been delivering telecare and telehealth solutions across Scotland for decades. Alongside this service offering, Tunstall is a lead partner in the Digital Health and Care Institute’s Next Generation Solutions for Healthy Ageing Cluster.
The cluster brings together corporate, SME, academic, health and care providers to enable them to co-design digital solutions to some of Scotland’s biggest health and care challenges. The project aims to develop personalised and preventative solutions and services fit for the 21st century, helping the Scottish population to live longer and healthier lives while creating new jobs for the economy.
The Government’s recently published white paper; ‘working together to improve health and social care for all’, sets out legislative proposals to build on the collaborations generated during the pandemic, and shape a system that’s better able to serve people in a fast-changing world.
These plans to deliver a new model of care which is centralised and standardised, and improves population health outcomes, requires a base level of digital functionality if it is to succeed. We must also exploit the accelerating development of new technology to enable new models of care, personalisation, and support.
Technology must be used in a modern way and established as a better platform to effectively support staff and patient care. This can only occur through a collaborative approach, and more strategic decisions with a long-term focus to shape health and care services for the future.
We’re also beginning to see the next generation of predictive care technology, and over the next few years, it will encompass integration that enables diverse and scalable models of health and social care. Using AI and taking data-driven insight from multiple sources, providers will use this next generation of solutions to optimise Population Health Management programmes by providing personalised and anticipatory care.
There’s never been a more crucial time for the Government to work with health and care providers to set out a new vision and commitment to creating a healthy and rejuvenated population using technology.