The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything for healthcare systems around the world, exposing their fragility and lack of resources in the face of an overwhelming global health crisis. But this fragility is not just limited to global pandemics – scarcity of resources and an ageing population have been presenting mounting challenges for healthcare systems for some years.
We are increasingly able to monitor and measure our own health, through smartphones, smartwatches and other wearable devices. The ‘quantified self’ has become part of everyday life. So why is that a visit to the doctor or a hospital still results in taking ‘old school’ measurements such as weight and heart rate when they’re available already with a swipe?
There are also many medical tests and diagnostics that are currently performed in a clinical setting that could easily be replicated in any other location. Over the past two years, we have seen a global experiment in remote testing that has revolutionised how we look at medical testing. Taking a test in your own home for a serious illness has become commonplace.
But there are still reservations among some sections of the public – including worries about data security and the involvement of the private sector in the NHS. Companies in the sector need to focus on messaging that addresses these issues and positions remote testing as a force for good.
In an era of concerns over funding for the NHS, which is still recovering from a backlog from COVID-19, remote diagnostics innovators should be positioned as saving money for a cash-strapped service. This should be fully aligned to the government’s digital health strategy, showing an alignment of public and private interests, and a focus on innovation as a critical factor in future progress.
Commonplace ailments such as Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) shouldn’t require a doctor’s appointment. UTI tests account for up to 10 million GP appointments per year according to NHS data, costing the NHS around £392 million that could be spent on more urgent cases. Companies such as Estonian disruptor Certific are also applying remote diagnostics to cardiovascular health and MRSA, which will save the NHS even more money.
It’s also important to highlight the benefits for patients as a key message. The explosion in remote testing means that more tests will actually be done, leading to earlier diagnosis and better treatment options, which in turn means improved patient outcomes. It will make clinical trials easier to manage at scale, bringing better treatments to the market more swiftly.
When it comes to data security, it helps to draw a comparison with the digital transformation of financial services. It shows how we can be comfortable with data security and trust others with personal information.
We used to have to visit a bank branch and take cash out over the counter after proving our ID. Then came cashpoints, which still meant you had to visit certain locations. Now we have apps that mean we can pay with our phones or laptops at our leisure and access goods and services without ever visiting a bank branch.
Using similar technology to account opening for online banking to prove your ID for remote medical testing demonstrates how it can take place in a secure and confidential environment. It also highlights the advantages. You won’t need to visit a hospital or a GP for testing or even most treatment. It will be delivered to, and in, your own home.
We are entering a time when healthcare will be as much about prediction, prevention and personal action as the treatment of patients by professionals. This revolution will save time and money. People might still need persuading, and this is critical to its future success. We need to remember it won’t just save money, it will save lives.
Written by Alexander Clelland, Director here at Houston.