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Three ways the NHS is using technology to help cope with an ageing population

Frazer Whitehead, Senior Business Manager – Public Sector, Brother UK

The growing demands being made on its resources are driving the NHS to come up with ever more innovative ways to keep providing an efficient and effective health service for all.

One of the key challenges is around the UK’s growing and aging population, and their increasingly complex long-term health needs.

Supporting heavy service users

The NHS needs to rapidly adapt and change if it is to continue to effectively care for a growing population of older people with long-term conditions like diabetes, arthritis and high blood pressure.

These kind of conditions affect more than 15 million people in England, who use 50 per cent of all GP appointments, and the number of people suffering from them is expected to grow substantially in the coming decades.

These ailments require constant monitoring, which is why those suffering tend to be such heavy users of the health service, but new technologies are already helping them manage their own health in their own communities.

The NHS recognises this potential and is working with commissioning group The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to expand research into new technologies, and to support the best approach to rolling out these innovations.

It commissioned the Accelerated Access Review to look at speeding up the approval process for new technologies, which has recommended a new streamlined system.

But treating patients with long-term conditions isn’t just about finding technological solutions. Caring for these patients requires a new care model based around an ongoing partnership, rather than disconnected episodes of care.

One without the other produces little gain, and can even add cost, so advances in technology must support the clinician as much as the patient.

Backing better decision making

One good example of how tech can support clinical decision making can be seen at Humber NHS Foundation Trust, which is equipping practitioners with tablets loaded with an app that gives secure access to all the data they need to deliver care, wherever they are.

When combined with remote monitoring technology, it means clinicians can access all patient data and notes instantly using the app, which they can also use to share information with colleagues and other bodies, like Social Services, in real time.

So, a community nurse could use a smartphone to take regular photos of a bed sore to monitor its progress using the app, which colleagues can also securely access, which supports better clinical decision making and improves care outcomes.

A recent successful pilot by Philips and Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group also showed how these kind of technologies can come together to help tackle chronic conditions as part of a supported self-care scheme.

It worked with patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart failure and diabetes and helped cut emergency admissions and secondary care costs by up to a third.

Patients used a tablet or set-top box on their TV, which was wirelessly connected to monitoring equipment including scales and a blood-pressure cuff.

They send data to clinicians, which is backed up with daily or weekly questionnaires filled in by the patient to strengthen doctors’ understanding of what is going on.

As well as monitoring the condition, the aim is to encourage patients to develop good habits that will stop their condition progressing.

Patients gain increased independence, which gives respite to their carers, and, with clinical data being constantly provided in real time, doctors can stay on top of any changes to their health readings and can intervene when needed.

While this strategy has the potential to help defer the patient having to move into residential care, it also has plenty of potential applications in that setting too.

Enhancing residential care

Nursing and residential homes in Airedale, Yorkshire, for example, have recently installed secure video links to the local hospital, enabling video consultations with nurses and consultants both in and out of normal hours for everything from minor injuries to diabetes management.

The initiative cut emergency admissions from these homes by more than a third and A&E attendances by more than half. Just as importantly, users rate the service highly.

From a clinicians point of view such technologies can help to save considerable time on travel and paperwork.

We are living through one of the biggest episodes of change that the NHS has ever experienced.

Indeed, the decisions we make today could support UK health and social care provision for generations to come.

Read more: According to the head of the profession, GPs are dangerously tired and overworked. This infographic pulls together some key statistics around GP workload, the activities taking up GPs’ time, and highlights examples of how technology is making a difference. 

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