The NHS is being pushed to its limit; over one million patients require NHS treatment every 36 hours. Demand for healthcare services is rising, whilst two thirds of hospitals are now in a deficit as a result of growing financial pressures. Calls for 24/7 working and improved efficiency will only compound the issue further, as the funding gap is projected to reach £30 billion by 2020. Planned expenditure for 2015/2016 is £116bn and NHS leaders argue that investment in transforming services is the only way to redress the balance.
Pressure on NHS services is increasing as average life expectancy continues to rise. Technological advances present the opportunity to improve efficiencies and provide a better overall level of service to patients. The question facing the NHS, however, is just how and where to prioritise technology innovation to drive the most significant value through better efficiency and improved patient care.
With centralised data, health organisations can properly assess the level of care being provided throughout a patient’s journey. This can be implemented using digital records and barcoding. Staff can upload and access information at the point of care, saving valuable time whilst reducing mistakes. Reminders to take medication, as well as electronic instructions for treatment, can be sent directly to a patient’s mobile device. Barcoding also combats counterfeit drugs by storing data regarding the manufacturer, where the drug was made and its use by date. Staff will be able to track inventory levels from the warehouse to surgery, ensuring greater accuracy and forward planning.
Joined up care is essential to improving patient outcomes and experience. By connecting all healthcare services, from hospitals to pharmacists, digital technology ensures all institutions possess the same up-to-date information. Data can be accurately stored and accessed quickly, aiding improved visibility and outcomes. Zebra Bluetooth smart wristbands can track patients’ journeys throughout a hospital, allowing staff to check their progress in real-time. The data is stored securely in the cloud and will alert workers if a patient has spent too much time in one department.
The value of the Internet of Things (IoT) to revolutionising healthcare has been recognised, with the government pledging to invest £40m in IoT across the public sector, including the NHS. A key benefit will be the ability to enable patients to self-manage their conditions. Diabetes patients can wear a patch that monitors blood glucose levels and can deliver insulin automatically. Time efficiency can be improved as staff can use mobile devices to print barcode labels at the bedside, rather than having to retrieve them from a central location.
Centralised data means patients no longer have to repeat their stories to numerous healthcare professionals. All staff involved in patient care can access a patient’s notes immediately. The IoT is empowering patients, allowing them more control over their own health care. As more patients are able to treat themselves outside of hospitals, this will reduce the strain on healthcare services. Digital technology can improve processes and efficiencies across the entire NHS. Most importantly, however, it can significantly improve the quality of patient care.
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