As the UK braces for the coronavirus pandemic, public health officials are calling on the NHS to embrace digital health technologies to tackle its spread.
Speaking in Parliament last week, health secretary Matt Hancock announced the roll-out of a digital first agenda with immediate effect: “We will take a digital-first approach, so that wherever possible people can access primary care through their phones and digital means.”
Digital health technologies allow patients, affected by both coronavirus and existing health conditions, to be assessed and treated remotely, without needing to leave their house.
This keeps vulnerable and coronavirus patients away from busy GP surgeries and hospitals, reducing transmission and protecting health care workers from infection.
Digital tools also help to maximise the NHS’s capacity, freeing up health care professionals time – a vital need in the face of the increasing epidemic.
Here’s a quick rundown of the technologies that could help halt the spread of COVID-19.
Video consultations allow people who have symptoms of coronavirus to be physically seen and assessed by doctors, while remaining in quarantine.
This means that people in at-risk groups can carry on accessing health care, without putting themselves at risk by having to leave their homes.
Remote patient monitoring
Remote patient monitoring enables patients to be monitored safely in their own homes, without the need to travel.
Remote monitoring eases pressures on the NHS by allowing patients with existing conditions to monitor these safely from their own homes.
With pressures on the NHS expected to rise exponentially in the coming months, this will free up doctors’ time, so they can focus on giving life-saving care to the most urgent cases.
Triaging and self-referral tools
Triaging tools aim to assess patients with symptoms of coronavirus, and refer them for the correct treatment as quickly and efficiently as possible.
With the NHS 111 service already inundated, additional triaging services could be rolled out as the pandemic increases. Simple questionnaires could be completed via apps or SMS by people in quarantine or self-isolation, and the results used to direct people to the right care quickly and efficiently.
For anyone that tests positive, self-referral tools can help them access the care they need directly, without having to call their GP, reducing pressures on primary care.
Digital test results
Public Health England have announced they will be scaling up coronavirus testing by 500%, from 1,500 to 10,000 tests a day.
With such a huge increase in demand, digital test results could help reduce the pressures on NHS staff, by sending the results directly via text or an app.
Results are sent directly to the individual tested – helping people get their results quicker, saving staff time and reducing the need for physical contact.
Moving towards a digital future
There’s no denying that pressures are mounting on the NHS in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
One unexpected outcome could be a permanent shift towards digital services – with a sudden push to adopt remote technologies, we could see a fundamental shift in the way our health care is delivered in the future.
While the coronavirus epidemic will hopefully subside in the coming months, digital health may well be here to stay.