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21st-century healthcare: how technology is revolutionising the National Health Service

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The NHS is a cherished and vital institution across the UK – the average life expectancy has increased by 10 years since its introduction – yet it is under intense and increasing pressure.

Occasionally, referrals take longer than necessary, letters don’t arrive, or waiting times are greater than expected.

But this could all be about to change with the introduction of a number of tech innovations that should lead to a more personalised, improved experience for patients, thanks to a new partnership with leading communications company BT.

Scott Adams, director of integrated health and social care at BT says: “We have a great relationship with the NHS on a national, regional and individual level, from top-level solutions to those affecting individual GP surgeries. Not many organisations work with the NHS on this kind of scale.”

Personal access to health records

In a partnership between the NHS Islington Clinical Commissioning Group and Islington Council , more than 200,000 people will be given direct access to their health records via a digital database early next year.

“This will allow patients to participate in the management of their healthcare, leading to a more personalised outcome. Some other health economies have trialled similar initiatives, but never on this scale,” says Mr Adams.

“The partnership team see the provision of a Person Held Record as a pivotal part of the overall transformation, changing the entire way patients interact.”

The initiative is also likely to have a major impact on the way referrals are managed. The current referral process works on a national basis by the local GP writing a letter to a Specialist at an Acute Hospital, who would in turn write a further letter to the patient offering them an appointment. The new system will digitise this process, making it more efficient and streamlined.

Improving the bed blocking challenge

Another big problem for the NHS is what’s known as “bed blocking”. This happens when people are admitted to hospital for a particular issue, which is treated and resolved.

But because they still require some care or monitoring, they’re not discharged, so they stay in the hospital longer than necessary. Assisted Living technology is helping to solve this problem.

“Through the use of wearable technology, such as a push button, or fall sensors and alarm pendants worn around the neck, patients can safely go back to their own homes, rather than staying in hospital longer than necessary,” says Mr Adams. This can also be applied to individuals with long-term health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease.

“An individual may have specific health-monitoring equipment at home, which links up to a device that can send the information to a contact centre or a local care authority,” Mr Adams adds.

“For example, a diabetes patient could test their blood sugar at home and the information could be sent to their doctor. This means that if their blood sugar levels are getting to a position where they’re going to become problematic, they could receive a visit or a call to ensure the necessary precautions are taken to prevent further complications.”

Less repetition for patients

Currently individuals are having to tell their story over and over again every time they come into contact with a new department, which can be frustrating and upsetting.

BT and their partner Total Mobile have created a service allowing healthcare professionals to work remotely – taking notes and accessing patient information on-the-go.

While these are important steps in the evolution of the NHS, Mr Adams sees the availability of personal health records as key to future improvements in the service – and believes this is a model that can be transferred to other industries.

“In the banking sector, for example, companies have found ways for individuals to manage their own finances and self serve.

“Over the next five years, I think it’s going to be equally ubiquitous for us to come to expect having direct access to our own personal health records. Where we have started offering these services, the uptake is voracious. I’m confident this is the future of healthcare technology.”

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