What does digital health mean to me?
It is now widely accepted by the NHS and health and social care organisations across the globe, that we must utilise digital technologies to help citizens manage their own health more effectively.
Healthcare provision as we know it will become increasingly unsustainable unless we can increase capacity and realign the burden of care from the clinic to the home or community.
Digital technologies supported by ubiquitous connectivity will be critical in enabling this shift; offering solutions that can be applied across the spectrum of care, including preventative treatments which are increasingly important in an ageing population.
Through remotely connected and monitored technologies, it is possible to react to early signs of deterioration in health and respond to patients’ needs through social prescribing, community action and at home interventions. Ultimately it is hoped that this will prevent the need for hospital admittance and we already know these kinds of interventions are often better for the patient and can produce significant cost savings.
If prevention isn’t possible we still want to help people manage their conditions more effectively, ideally in in their own homes and local communities, as long as this can be achieved without any detriment to patient care or overall health. Digital solutions have for some time now been able to help people monitor and manage ongoing conditions such as diabetes, or recording weight and activity levels. This kind of health management could equally be of relevance to many wider care applications.
For this technology to be truly transformational it requires an integrated, system-wide approach with connectivity the starting point for this new paradigm.
We are utilising our vast pool of knowledge, assets, experience, and insight into the development and deployment of advanced communications networks and creation of enabled applications. While current experience has been generated through deployment of infrastructure and the exploration of applications of 5G, the potential is far broader.
Strong, stable, and reliable connections are central to the ability to deliver care away from the clinical setting. This connectivity could support the clinician working in a mobile and agile manner or the patient in accessing and sharing real time data; or both through remote consultations.
For instance, the NHS is currently exploring ways to improve treatment options at the scene of an incident and conduct more non-invasive procedures from the patients’ own homes under medical guidance. If we successfully unlock remote care options it would reduce the need for unnecessary admission of patients to hospital, make specialist care more readily available, and improve the safety and comfort of patients.
It may all sound like a distant future, but the reality is that trials to test, prove and deploy these kinds of solutions are already underway. In fact, West Midlands 5G has already proven the application of a 5G connected ambulance and has recently launched a pilot enabling patients to undergo colon capsule endoscopy from home, supported by a team of specialists monitoring and guiding the procedure in real time.
Care homes are another great example of where 5G technology is already making a difference to patients, protecting some of the most vulnerable individuals during the pandemic. 5G connectivity helped us place a diagnostic suite in a care home, enabling the GP to direct and control the examination from a remote location and see the patient’s reaction simultaneously.
Remote consultations such as these improve the safety of care home residents by limiting exposure to harmful pathogens and reduce the time spent travelling by GPs, all while clinicians can ensure the highest quality of care is met.
This is just a brief example of our work to date. The skills and experience that we have developed in showcasing the region as a hub for digital growth and development will help to drive future inward investment from organisations across the UK, playing a key role in supporting national economic and social recovery across sectors, especially healthcare.
We are only scratching the surface of the ways in which 5G and other digital solutions can help transform healthcare. As more SMEs begin to think creatively about the possibilities around connected care, we will see application in areas from social inclusion to mental health management to remote surgical processes and implant management. This is how advanced digital connectivity will truly deliver greater care closer to home.