In the UK, the NHS is facing a seemingly insurmountable series of challenges at the moment. Talk of the NHS is in a crisis is not ‘news’ in the sense that, for years, the organisation has been facing higher numbers of admissions, tougher targets and insufficient staffing numbers. Is IoT the solution?
The current climate of uncertainty in the UK has brought with it a perfect storm for the NHS. By 2027 it is estimated that over 20% of the population of the UK will be 65 years old or more, according to the Office of National Statistics. In 2007 that figure was around 15%, and in 2017 it rose to just over 18%.
Finding the resources to meet the challenge of providing a reasonable standard of care for that many elderly people would be enough of a challenge in itself before you stop to consider some more facts and statistics.
One in eight NHS staff come from overseas to work in the UK. That’s 12.5% of the people who will be supporting our ageing population. In recent years migration patterns have become less predictable, and there is no way we can fill the gap with staff from the UK, so there are simply not going to be enough pairs of hands to provide the level of care required to the number of people that will need it.
Also, while the government has promised an extra £20bn in funding for the NHS between now and 2023, managers and directors within the NHS are under huge pressure to prove that they are going to use that extra budget wisely. One of the key initiatives that could receive investment is called ‘integrated care’ - a more patient-orientated approach that does not necessarily require that care be delivered in a hospital.
It’s a nice thought, but likely an unobtainable reality. With an ageing population, not enough staff, and increasing pressure to use budgets more efficiently, it’s unlikely that the NHS will successfully deliver more patient-centric care to an increasing number of people over the next 8 years.
It’s a tricky and ambitious goal for sure, but IoT and remote patient monitoring might yet play a large part in finding a solution.
One of the major underlying issues facing the NHS is resource efficiency. Medical professionals can only be squeezed so hard before they inevitably break, and it’s simply not possible to increase the number of staff to the level required to cope, even if every single one of them is working as efficiently as possible.
So, the solution has to come in the form of systems and processes that can ease the burden on staff and ensure a better patient experience than the current system does.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has made such a system possible through the use of connected devices to monitor patients’ vital signs remotely. That system is remote patient monitoring (RPM).
What makes this so revolutionary for the medical sector is that it provides a solution for managing all the data that previously existed only in conversations between medical staff and patients and a disparate collection of physical charts and digital records in a more intelligent and accessible way.
It allows for automation to be introduced for dispensing care or medicine for minor injuries and conditions as well as serving as an early warning system for more serious conditions. It allows doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to be more proactive and to manage their time better, thereby creating the efficiency that is out of reach of the traditional model.
If remote patient monitoring were to become a standard in the UK, NHS staff would have a great deal more support in their day to day roles, and patients would enjoy a better experience as well. Given the freedom to receive care in their own home whilst knowing that they were receiving round the clock monitoring, albeit sometimes from an AI rather than a person, most patients would probably opt to recover at home. This also supports the NHS goal of making care more community-oriented rather than keeping patients cooped up in hospitals.
Without the IoT, other innovations such as data warehousing and constant improvements in mobile connectivity, remote patient monitoring would be a distant pipe dream. For it to be truly successful though, it should not be seen as a replacement for doctor-patient interactions, but rather as something that exists alongside these interactions and allows them to be more qualitative in nature.
This, as well as the option to receive care in the comfort of their own home, is what will create the vastly improved patient experience that IoT remote patient monitoring promises.
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