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COVID-19 has been a catalyst and accelerator for these digital health trends...

COVID-19 is without a doubt the most significant problem that healthcare organisations around the world have encountered in recent memory, with countless resources redeployed to respond to the pandemic. From research to the vaccination and booster programmes, the whole healthcare system has run with the challenge and ‘digital health’ has been at the core of it all. ‘Digital health’ in this context, predominantly being the use of information and communications technologies in the health profession to manage illness, health risks and to promote wellness. So, with COVID-19 being the catalyst and accelerator for hastening the implementation and adoption of digital technologies, how many of them are likely to stick around when the crisis has passed? With a view to preventing problems like diabetes and encouraging health behaviours being a big part of the NHS Long Term Plan, the role of technology in helping people to monitor their own health has been growing and these trends are definitely hitting the mark…

Are virtual patient consultations here to stay? The NHS Long Term Plan aimed for practices to offer e-consultations from April 2020 and video from April 2021 however the COVID-19 pandemic greatly accelerated their adoption with general practice instructed to conduct all consultations remotely from March 2020 where possible. According to the British Journal of General Practice, over 90% of regular GP appointments and 46% of nurse consultations were delivered remotely in April 2020, with only 25% of GP appointments conducted remotely in the previous year. Video consultation is now available to all secondary care providers and 95% of practices, and can be clinically effective (particularly if patients cannot attend due to illness of infection) in caring for long-term disorders such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma, stroke, psychiatric illnesses, malignancies, and chronic pain. Video consultation has also benefited those who live in remote or rural areas. However, there has been some clinical resistance relating to the constraints of virtual consultation. Therefore, while promotion of virtual appointments as a preferred consultation process may be premature, with backing from health secretary Sajid Javid, it looks like in-person patient consultations are unlikely to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

Remote monitoring solutions and self-screening:

To increase distance and free up resources for COVID-19 care, patient self-monitoring in the home has been accelerated. Beyond the crisis, these solutions have a number of advantages, particularly for those with long-term illnesses. Patients can use wearables like heart rate sensors, exercise trackers, and oximeters to get real-time information and take care of themselves. This has particularly been utilised in context of ‘virtual wards’ and to support those with particular conditions, for example Parkinson’s disease. While off-the-shelf devices that monitor vital signs are not necessarily medical grade and can lead to self-diagnosis via ‘Dr Google’, it is important that doctors embrace those patients who are keen to manage their own chronic conditions and the global wearable medical device industry is anticipated to grow after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The growing IoMT (Internet of Medical Things):

The IoMT goes beyond self-monitoring by patients and into the realm of artificial intelligence and blockchain. It is a network of medical devices, software applications, and health systems and services that interplay together to streamline the patient experience. This allows for scalable tailored treatments that encompass the entire patient journey. The evolution of high-speed networking technologies, the increasing adoption of smartphones, tablets and other mobile platforms, and, most crucially, patients' acceptance of remote treatment and increased use of linked medical equipment are all driving the market's growth. While adopting the IoMT brings challenges from interoperability and cyber security to management from a regulatory perspective, the IoMT market is estimated to be worth a whopping $158.1 billion in 2022.

The increasing importance of diagnostic technology

Diagnostic results are essential for managing the patient journey and can include tests to measure blood pressure, oxygen levels and temperature to name a few. Diagnostics came to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic with the rapid development of screening tests and interventions such as isolation. The NHS Long Term Plan has a focus on preventative care with diagnostics playing a vital role in screening for illness and picking up on potential problems before they occur, for example the implementation of the NHS Health Check. Technology such as health kiosks can be utilised to increase the capacity of GP practices to carry out such checks and to allow those who may not have access to home monitoring devices or the internet to carry out their own checks.

So where next?

While the last two years have been the most challenging in the history of the NHS, COVID-19 has shown how healthcare systems can quickly implement new technology and care models with the status quo unlikely to be restored. This looks set to continue, as set out in the intention of the NHS 2022/23 priorities and operational planning guidance to continue to exploit the potential of digital technologies to transform the delivery of care and patient outcomes. This system-wide drive for change gives health tech developers an opportunity to expand creative solutions across the whole healthcare setting to deliver a truly digitised, interoperable and connected health and care system. At EK Interactive Innovations improving the role that digital monitoring takes in healthcare is at the heart of what we do, and we are proud to be part of this digital health revolution.

To find out more about the EK Health Kiosk and what benefits it can bring to your practice for 2022, get in touch with us on 01223 812737 or, we’d be happy to discuss this with you and arrange a free, no obligation demo.

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