As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the National Health Service, it is an opportune time to reflect on its long and unique history and consider its future path towards digital maturity.
Since its formation on 5th July 1948, the NHS has experienced many changes, challenges, and innovations. It has evolved and expanded to the point at which it now supports over a million people a day across every corner of the country.
One of the most prominent changes has been the rapid expansion of digital capability within the NHS, such as the NHS app and the emergence of remote GP consultations; but how does its transformation compare to other industries?
Over the last decade, several industries from banking to retail to air travel have embraced digital transformation, moving many of their traditional processes into digital ones. As a result, this has empowered people by putting them in control of their online journey.
In this article, we’re looking at how different industries have adapted by using technology to provide a person-centred experience, and how digital tools can make a valuable contribution to enhancing patient-centred care.
Digital transformation in banking
Banking is a noteworthy industry to compare to healthcare in terms of digital transformation. In both services for example, it is imperative to have highly robust security and compliance structures within their technology to protect their user’s data.
Traditional banking would have seen account holders visiting their bank in-person, speaking with an advisor to help with their needs. This then evolved with the introduction of the automated teller machine or ATM in 1967 so people could check their bank balances and withdraw cash at their convenience.
Advancing further, banking was then made available online as a way for people to access their information and manage their finances without having to leave their homes.
Mobile banking was the next step in digital transformation, with traditional and newly established online banks developing their own mobile applications. This allowed users to have more access to their finances from viewing bank statements, transferring money or managing spend and depositing cheques, all from their mobile device.
Digital transformation in retail
Digital transformation in retail has vastly changed the way brands and customers interact with each other. Both in retail and healthcare, technology can help make access to a service both convenient and efficient.
The traditional shopping experience would typically have seen customers walking to their local high-street or supermarket, picking up what was available to them at that moment and being served by a cashier. This slowly started to incorporate self-service checkouts so customers could scan and pay for their goods themselves.
Online shopping became the new norm with consumers purchasing goods from worldwide company websites, comparing prices and services between multiple sites before making their decision. Digital technologies could then allow companies to provide their customers with tailored experiences and offers, developed in response to monitored consumer behaviour.
2-5 Working Day delivery times have evolved into Next Day delivery services. And Next Day has now turned into Same Day delivery services. Social media has a growing influence on customer spending, with companies most likely having their own platforms and mobile apps to build rapport and give customers instant access to the latest products.
Digital transformation in healthcare
The wider healthcare sector has continued to see digital transformation and technological advancements, helping services work more efficiently, improve diagnosis and treatment and offer patients a blended approach of virtual and face-to-face support.
The reliance on paper documentation and fax machines started to reduce with the introduction of NHSmail in the early 2000s. Generic email has now been enhanced by software solutions specifically designed for the health sector, offering better auditability and security when sharing care records.
Cloud technologies have revolutionised the storage and transfer of data with electronic patient records (EPR) now organisations can access and share information anywhere at any time. This has meant teams have been able to work more collaboratively across different services and authorities - a significant benefit since the establishment of Integrated Care Systems.
Remote monitoring such as telephone appointments and video calls are offered alongside traditional in-person consultations so patients can communicate with their health professional from the comfort of their own home.
Wearable devices and the NHS app have also meant that people have consistent management of their medical needs, with data being available to the practitioner remotely so they can monitor and intervene when necessary.
How digital transformation can support patient-centred healthcare
Digital technologies have helped transform the way patients communicate with their general practitioner. Software solutions are becoming more sophisticated, incorporating forward thinking functionalities designed to benefit the efficiency of the practice and enhance patient experience.
1. Digital first access
On-demand primary care access helps patients have more control over their care. Digital solutions are accessible from the practice website or mobile app, offering a quick, alternative contact point to the traditional telephone line.
From being able to self-book appointments and manage prescriptions to requesting historical medical records and having referral updates sent digitally, online consultation solutions provide digital first primary care to all patients.
And for those who may not be digitally enabled, technologies can allow family members or the reception team to submit requests on behalf of a patient. Having this additional method of booking a GP appointment also helps to free up the busy telephone lines so they can be more available for urgent calls.
2. Greater efficiency
We mentioned that healthcare technologies are becoming more sophisticated. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a prime example of how online consultations have evolved to keep up with the needs and demands of healthcare’s gatekeeper.
General practice is generally the first port of call for patients, and GPs frequently need to decide whether someone needs a referral for specialist care. Artificial intelligence can be used to flag a consultation request that indicates a mental health related query. This AI support aims to reduce practice workload, improve clinical safety and patient experience as they can be quickly redirected to the appropriate service.
Online consultation solutions may also automatically triage appointments based on urgency and availability. This not only improves the efficiency of the practice, but also means that those who’s needs are more pressing, can be seen by their GP quicker and transferred on to other services.
The creation of virtual wards, to free up hundreds of hospital beds, has also made it possible for patients to recuperate at home whilst being monitored remotely by a specialist team on a 24-7 basis.
3. Tackling health inequalities
Digital transformation in primary care, for example, has meant that the traditional face-to-face appointment is no longer the only way to see a GP. Telephone appointments, video calls, SMS messaging and image / document uploading allows patients to attend their GP consultation without having to travel to the practice in person.
This means patients living far away from their nearest practice or those with disabilities who would have usually struggled attending appointments are still able to receive the care they need.
Online consultation solutions may also be designed with language translation capabilities. Free-text functionalities mean patients have the freedom to explain their queries - a particular benefit for patients for whom English is not their first language – which are then translated for the GP.
4. Stronger communication
Digital care records follow the patient through their entire care journey, creating a more collaborative and integrated national health service. Being able to deliver this data across organisations means that patients no longer have to repeat themselves to each health professional they see, since their care records can be shared and viewed as soon as they are available.
And we recognise that messaging within the practice is just as important as communication throughout the wider service. Perhaps an individual needs an appointment reminder or to be invited for a blood test. Or maybe every patient that is registered with the practice needs to be updated with an important announcement. A digital tool can help make this communication more seamless.
An online consultation solution may include asynchronous or synchronous messaging capabilities. This means a member of staff can message the patient when it is convenient, reducing pressure and improving efficiency. The patient can then respond and if both parties are available at the same time, two-way messaging is instant.
Although healthcare has lagged behind industries like banking and retail, it is steadily catching up. NHS organisations in primary, secondary and urgent care are continuing to progress firmly towards a digitally mature future that places patients at the very centre of their services.
To find out more about some of the ways Advanced Health and Care is helping the NHS in their digital transformation journey, visit: Healthcare Solutions