As we ride the wave of the fourth industrial revolution, it is amazing that Britain’s National Health Service continues to be one of the biggest users of fax machines in the world and still spends £79m a year on second-class stamps rather than emailing people.
However, healthcare is facing a digital overhaul in the new “open economy”, driven by mobile tech and connected devices. It could re-energise medical research and save lives, time and money, according to two leading British experts.
Mobile devices can help deliver care to patients in their own homes, speeding up the way healthcare professionals and patients communicate, according to Mark Howells, founder and managing director of Konnektis. “Our system runs on Samsung tablets that replace the pen-and-paper notes currently used in home care,” he says.
“These mobile devices have data connectivity and become the hub for health professionals, formal carers and family members to access, record and share information easily and securely. As a result, we can all collaborate in real-time to deliver the highest standards of care.”
Building the Konnektis system involved “significant” input from users to ensure that it met their needs, says Mr Howells. “Konnektis becomes the individual’s hub to access information about their care.
“Technology that is accessible and easy to use can provide people with better information, greater choice and more control. At its core, health and social care will always be about people. Technology is simply an enabler, whether it is improved care co-ordination in the home, more effectively supporting people in rural communities with video consultations or the power of predictive analytics.”
Storing patient data remotely could have even greater benefits for the healthcare community, according to Dr Joe McDonald, chairman of the Chief Clinical Information Officers Network.
Dr McDonald is a consultant psychiatrist at the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust too, which is also adopting Samsung mobile devices to streamline patient care. “Once you’ve got an electronic patient record, I don’t have to drive to the hospital to prescribe a few paracetamol,” he says. “I can access the information from anywhere via 4G and work from wherever I am.”
But the benefits go far beyond saving time for healthcare professionals, Dr McDonald says. “It would give us a huge opportunity to do groundbreaking research. If you had a phone app where people gave consent for their data to be used, in the same way as you consent when you sign up to use any online service, you could conduct research at industrial levels.”
Dr McDonald says many patient records are still stored on paper, so the data is not used in research. “We mostly rely on clinical trials for medical research and it’s extremely expensive. If we can switch to using an app to get patient consent, it would create a really rich research environment. It’s the big leap forward we have yet to make.”
He points out that almost all non-healthcare businesses already harvest customer details in this way. “We work on paper simply because we’ve always done it like this. Privacy is a concern but I’m much more concerned about my banking details. We can use two-step authentication and other technology to secure this.”
With the right infrastructure in place, it’s only a matter of time before the public starts to drive this shift, says Dr McDonald. “The breakthrough will come when citizens decide they want the electronic data. Patient demand will drive the change – and we’d save a fortune over the years.”