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“In a world where digital innovation can sweep the globe in months, the NHS is one of the most non-viral institutions in the world.” – The Guardian – Jonathon Carr-Brown.

With the ever-increasing pressure being put on it and with more people us shopping, banking and organising work and social lives online, does the NHS have to move into the digital age and allow us to manage our health and wellbeing electronically?

Digital has a key role in the development of the NHS in the future. It must enable patients to be more proactive in their own care, allowing them to take more responsibility. However to allow this to happen investment must be made to update the systems and infrastructure within the NHS in order to get the processes up and running.

recent article on The Guardian Healthcare Network documented the difficulties doctors and nurses face with the current technology that exists in the NHS. New software is installed on ageing computers infuriating doctors and nurses, leading to longer waiting times for patients.

Consultant anaesthetist and published author, Ellie May commented: “A huge investment in information technology is required if our move to e-health is to continue. At what cost? The numbers are not important, rather the fact that this amount is visible, measurable and accountable, unlike the time and resource we all waste waiting for the egg timer to stop spinning.”

As well as investing in better hardware for the existing systems, what else can the NHS do to help automate and digitise its services?

MOBILE

With Apple‘s recent introduction of its Health app, 2014 was the year that mobile health became a reality and 2015 should be the year where things are taken even further. Apps and smartphones have become ubiquitous across the world and should be used to revolutionise healthcare as we know it.

apple_health

A new initiative put forward by the Labour party is a step in the right direction as they look to use smartphones to locate the nearest (possible) life-saving defibrillator. Many countries have already adopted schemes that place defibrillators in major public buildings and the UK should do the same.

WEARABLE TECHNOLOGY

The battle for wearable technology hotted up at the end of 2014 as Apple announced its Apple Watch, and despite that these devices are still in their infancy, reserved for the fanboys and early adopters they could (and should) become crucial in the future of the NHS and how patients are treated.

Wearable technology will allow patients to share details and data with their GP’s at the touch of a button from anywhere in the world, with physicians around the world starting to prescribe health and fitness apps for their patients.

Smart watches particularly will help the NHS evolve and allow patients to take a more active role in their own health, whilst also allowing physicians to diagnose and treat illnesses and chronic issues through the analysis and monitoring of data in real-time.

NHS England’s Medical Director, Professor Bruce Keogh remarked: “fitness trackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated. But there are devices coming along which not only measure how much exercise you do but can also measure your heart rate, your respiratory rate, and whether or not you’ve got excess fluid in your body – quite complex changes in your physiology.

He also added: “technology is emerging which enables those to be brought together and transmitted through mobile phones or other methods where health professionals can analyse them and act upon any warning signs,” Keogh says.

PATIENTS & STAFF

As well as an investment on the NHS side, the general public also needs to take responsibility for their own health and for the future of the NHS.

This has happened in other industries (banking, travel etc.) with great success so a more digital approach must be adopted.

Whether the move to digital is successful for the NHS will depend solely on whether the staff and patients using the systems embrace this approach. A definite change can’t be made unless everyone is pulling in the right direction, be it doctors, nurses, managers, directors or patients!

We’d love to hear about your experiences with technology within the NHS. Would you be happy sharing clinical data with GP’s via an app or digital watch? What initiatives would you like to see introduced? Are the government’s plan for a paperless NHS by 2018 possible? Get in touch and comment below.