Since the Coronavirus outbreak, there’s been a rapid rollout of digital services across the NHS, and many experts are heralding the pandemic as the start of a digital revolution in health care.
But how might COVID-19 change the NHS for good?
Here are our top predictions.
1. Remote consultations
Across the UK, GP surgeries and outpatient clinics have moved to phone or video appointments to maintain social distancing.
But remote consultations offer long-term advantages too – they reduce the spread of illnesses, allow convenient access to health care and eliminate the need to travel.
As time goes on, and more patients and clinicians recognise the benefits of going remote, it’s likely video consultations will remain popular within the NHS for years to come.
2. Remote patient monitoring
With social distancing, more people are choosing to manage their health via digital tools and we’re seeing a rise in demand for remote patient monitoring. These services allow patients with pre-existing conditions to manage them from home, taking vital readings for conditions like diabetes or COPD, and alerting medics if there’s a problem.
Since the outbreak, apps and online systems that allow patients to book appointments, check symptoms and get test results have seen a huge surge in use. The NHS app has seen a 111% increase in users since the start of March.
As more health care staff and patients realise the benefits, it’s likely these systems will remain in place long-term – freeing up resources for the NHS and offering a convenient way for patients to take an active role in their own health.
3. Online prescriptions
Until now, most people have preferred to order their prescriptions over the phone or in person. But since COVID-19, there’s been a sudden surge in online prescriptions.
A staggering 25 million prescriptions were ordered online in March, a 400% increase from the previous month. The NHS app has also seen a 75% rise in prescriptions ordered via their service.
As the pandemic continues, and more people realise the convenience of ordering online, we think this trend will continue long after Coronavirus has passed.
4. The NHS as a digital workplace
Complex structures have made the NHS notoriously slow to adopt digital processes. But Coronavirus is forcing it to transform into a digital workplace at breakneck speed.
Across the organisation, video conferencing and online communication tools are replacing face-to-face meetings, and e-learning and virtual assessments are taking the place of exams and in-person training.
Many of the NHS’s internal systems are also being transformed – remote-access solutions are being set up, and smart cards introduced to fast-track doctor registration. Digital infrastructure is being radically improved – with systems put in place to improve cyber security and increase bandwidth.
With initial investment now complete, and NHS managers starting to see the efficiencies and cost savings that tech can bring, it seems inevitable that digital ways of working are here to stay.
5. Online triaging
On March 4 of this year, NHS 111 launched an online Coronavirus tool, to help with the sudden influx of callers with possible symptoms.
According to NHS Digital, NHS 111 online has seen up to 550,000 users a day, up from the usual 10,000 before COVID-19.
The tool has relieved a huge amount of pressure on the service. Users are assessed, given self-care information, and cases requiring further attention are passed on to a medical professional.
With the service’s success, we could see more online triaging for common conditions, like flu or minor injuries, freeing up face-to-face care for people who really need it.