Digital image of Coronavirus cells floating
By Bryn Sage
Blog 16 April 2020

In the wake of the Coronavirus crisis, there’s been a dramatic surge in online health care tools – from GP appointments to e-learning and online prescriptions.

Many experts believe that this is a shift toward digital health care practices, that will stick around long after COVID-19 and change the NHS for good.  

A slow uptake

Digital health care tools are nothing new. From remote patient monitoring to tools that reduce heavy administration tasks for health care workers, Inhealthcare has a wealth of experience developing digital health services for the NHS.

But despite the government pushing a digital agenda, with the creation of services such as NHS Digital and NHSX, uptake on digital services has been slow.

It’s been a frustrating time for digital leaders and government, who know that digitisation could bring better services to the NHS, while reducing pressures and costs.

Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, knows the challenge well: “Everyone knows how hard it’s been to get the NHS to adopt the best in digital.”

Coronavirus – the tipping point?

In the wake of the Coronavirus epidemic, countries around the world have seen a sudden demand for digital services.

In China, where the pandemic started, there’s been a 900% increase in healthcare platforms for diagnosis and treatment.

Here in the UK, NHS trusts have also been rushing to move their services online.

From GP appointments to e-learning programmes upskilling medics in respiratory medicine, digital health care is suddenly at the forefront of the pandemic. Here at Inhealthcare, we’ve seen a fundamental increase in inquiries for monitoring patients with long-term conditions such as COPD, asthma, diabetes as well as expectant mothers with gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. Keeping our most vulnerable safe and well at home is critical.

As Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX, stated recently: “Tech can play an important role in helping the country deal with the challenges created by coronavirus.”

The changes in services are happening at a breakneck speed, with decisions that previously would have taken years being fast-tracked in a matter of weeks.

Barriers that previously prevented the adoption of digital technology are being torn down, and the UK government are pumping funding into digital solutions, with a £500,000 fund available for health tech innovators.  

A new digital future

But does this really signal the start of a permanent shift towards digital health care? Or will we revert back to our old ways as soon as COVID-19 has passed?

Many experts in the industry believe that these changes are here to stay.

Professor Theodoros Arvanitis, from the Institute of Digital Healthcare, predicts that Coronavirus could be the start of the digitisation of healthcare in the UK:

“Covid-19 will unfortunately have a human cost that will be remembered for many years to come. Its impact on healthcare, the economy and society, as a whole, will be rather significant. However, it could also be the start of more digitised healthcare, as new ways of remote and digital health working have had to evolve so rapidly.”

In the past, many of the large-scale changes we’ve seen in our health care systems have occurred as a result of crises – the outbreak of the 1918 Spanish flu led to the UK’s first centralised public health care system, and WW2 caused the birth of the NHS.

So will Coronavirus have a similar effect?

Only time will tell. But with digital services offering more cost-effective, convenient methods of treatment for both patients and clinicians, COVID-19 could well be the catalyst that sparks the digital transformation of the NHS.   

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