Digital Health Care: How will it work for us?
The Coronavirus hit the UK last year, and since March 2020, several measures have been put in place to curve the spread of the virus and to ensure public safety. Over a short period, we were forced to adapt to a ‘new normal’. In particular, we saw a change in the way we access healthcare. Our health system has been transformed to adapt to social distancing measures and other restrictions put in place by the government. We have therefore seen a rise in the application of ‘Digital Healthcare’. Telephone and video consultations, E-consult, and virtual resources are just some of the ways in which our health care has been transformed by digital technologies.
The integration of digital technologies into healthcare is not new and some health providers were already utilising video consultation and telemedicine before the pandemic.
E-consult has been made available to patients for some time and these new technologies are geared towards making healthcare more accessible and more efficient.
However, the pandemic has demanded an unexpected transformation of services, not just to the practitioners, but also to the patients.
With such a swift transformation, what have been the consequences; the pros and cons?
- Digital communication between health care providers and their patients allows us to maintain social distancing and therefore reduces the potential for spreading the virus. The patient stays safe while their needs are still being met. Healthcare professionals are at the forefront of tackling the virus, so these new methods can give them some assurance that they can do their work in a safer environment.
- Reduced need for travel enables easier access for some patients, such as the elderly, housebound, or those with mobility issues, who would typically face challenges in having to travel into GPs and hospitals for face-to-face consultations.
- Doctors and nurses are able to see more patients in a day. Response times are improved with electronic messaging with the scope for a more rounded system that will give us greater access to our personal health information and enable us to manage our health and well-being a lot better.
- With COVID-19 putting restraints on conventional face-to-face consultation, some may find that the healthcare system is more restricted than before. There was no room for easing into these changes, due to the nature by which they were introduced. Some patients may not know how to navigate things such as E-Consult or video consultations.
- Access has also been an issue where people do not fit the NHS requirements for video consultations. Even then, there may be language and technical barriers that prevent access. Statistics show that 5.3 million adults in the UK do not use the internet and that 4.3 million people lack digital skills, three quarters of whom are over 65.
- There has not been a blanket application across all healthcare providers as some practices have been able to adapt to digital health care with ease, while others are having a hard time integrating the new methods into their practice. It is therefore difficult to compare and accurately monitor the overall efficiency of this method.
- Digital security has become an issue, with people reporting scam text messages and emails. These could potentially con a lot of people if they are unable to distinguish them from the texts or emails coming from official sources. This new digitised approach presents security concerns, with regards to patient confidentiality, data management, and scams.
As we are making progress in eliminating the COVID threat, it is necessary to appreciate how the digital transformation of healthcare has helped health providers to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. The transformations that we have experienced during the pandemic are just the tip of the iceberg. When talking of digital health care, we can see the future in the virtual treatment of patients, wearable health devices for home check-ups, on-demand consultations, and AI triage.
Do you think that such technologies will make access to healthcare more efficient? Will it improve the flexibility, availability of clinical time? Is it here to stay? Follow us on social media accounts where we will continue the discussion on Digital Health, as well as other interesting topics.
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