We live in the golden age of smartphones. With 75% of users now accessing the internet via a smartphone and 6.4 billion connected devices predicted by the end of the year, the NHS plans to soon capitalise on far-reaching accessibility in a bid to modernise the service in the eyes of the public. Offering medical diagnoses via smartphone; there are hopes that this era of connectivity will help to alleviate pressure on the health service and provide greater reach to patients across the country.
Following his keynote speech at the NHS Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester, Jeremy Hunt has unveiled plans to improve access to healthcare services online. Under these plans, 111 will see the introduction of a new service that will allow patients to key in their symptoms via a smartphone and receive either instant advice or a callback from a medical professional. With a launch as early as 2017, there is time for these new services to embed and improve prior to the completion of the Five Year Forward View.
In addition to 111, NHS online will soon allow every listed citizen to register and make appointments with a GP, order their prescriptions and even download their own medical records. This website will also host league tables that will track performance on a national level. This service is already available with current statistics for diabetes, dementia and learning disabilities, with cancer and maternity services following later in the year.
Advances in technology are key to ensuring the health service is fully equipped for the digital age – not just for patients today but also the demands of the future. Unprecedented pressures, such as a sharp increase in 999 call-outs and a rise in casualty visits, are causing GP waiting lists to grow and A&E waiting targets to fall-short of expectations. Studies have found that by improving the support for minor ailments, we can alleviate pressure on acute services with more effective diagnoses via digital technology. With improvements in smartphone applications and wearables, the health service will soon launch a library of approved solutions that can help monitor and improve health whilst making the best use of products available on the market.
Whilst the National Health Service is one of the world’s most advanced and effective healthcare institutions, it does not have a proven track record with the implementation of technology. Under a Labour government, the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) left a multibillion-pound hole in the medical budget with no discernible improvements. Recent plans to create a centralised database for medical records were shelved following concerns over data privacy whilst leaks by NHS Digital resulted in documents being published in error.
Considering the advancements in smartphone technology as well as the uptake in mobile device usage, the focus on digital is well-founded. With a smartphone in the hand of almost every person in the country, could we soon see a first-line digital health service? Could this ease pressure on acute care thereby freeing resource for critical care, clinical trials, medical research, treatment development etc.? We will always need an A&E resource but with smartphones now playing such a vital role in our lives, are we really ready for them to be digital doctors? Whichever way you land, the NHS is now making huge strides towards what could be a more effective, lower cost and more accessible service.