Wednesday, February 24News For London

The future of healthcare is in technology

Health minister Jeremy Hunt showed off a USB containing entire human DNA genome, displaying technological advancements at e-Heath conference.

Reporter: Brendan Westhoff

Subeditor: Nader Kaddour 

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Simon Stevens keynote speech. Credit: Brendan Westhoff

Technology encompasses all aspects of modern day life. We shop, manage our finances, communicate and maintain an active social life, all using a small device that fits in a trouser pocket.

Over recent years, technology has been incorporated into health, with wearable technology measuring vital signs, calculating calories burnt and steps ran, and also with games like Wii Fit reaching a mass market.

Soon, the use of technology could be an integral part of NHS healthcare, with online access to medical records, and the use of apps for managing diseases such as diabetes, or support for quitting smoking.

“The most exciting things I see anywhere in the world now in healthcare are on this thing,” says Alan Milburn, former Secretary of State for Health from 1999 to 2003, whilst holding his smartphone high in the air.

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Debate – Alan Milburn, Mike Farrar and Stephen Dorrell. Simon Stevens keynote speech. Credit: Brendan Westhoff

Milburn was speaking at e-Health Week at Olympia on 3rd March. Attended by representatives from across the NHS, from doctors to management, health care professionals to members of the public, and featured keynote speeches from Health minister Jeremy Hunt and the Chief Executive of NHS England Simon Stevens.

The event showcased examples of new and current technologies used in healthcare and the role they will play over the next decade.

Mobile technology

“Technology can empower people to do something about their health,” says Milburn, in the opening debate at the conference, where he spoke alongside Stephen Dorrell, Secretary of State for health from 1995 to 1997 in John Major’s Conservative government.

Mobile technology incorporates a range of innovations in both a personal and clinical settings.

“By equipping staff with mobile tablets and with use of a wireless network, this will enable decisions to be made next to a patients bedside, opposed to staff moving between patients to a computer that is perhaps situated elsewhere on the ward,” says a representative from NHS England.

Integrated digital care records

On the event’s second day, Jeremy Hunt took to the main stage for his keynote speech holding a USB containing a three billion DNA pair sequence that comprises an entire human genome.

“This took 13 years and £2 billion of research to get to the point where we could do this and now we can now do an entire genome in two days for £1,000. This is really going to change absolutely everything,” says Hunt.

This opening ice-breaker segued into a prediction for the future of patients medical histories and the implementation of electronic records. In 2013, the Secretary for Health set the challenge for the NHS to go ‘paperless’ by 2018. Replacing the individual paper notes used in every clinical environment will be a system of interoperable electronic records, accessible to any healthcare professional by a patients NHS number.

“All doctors, nurses and other health care professionals treating a patient will have access to a patients entire online medical notes,” says the representative for NHS England. “They can see the care that has been provided across the spectrum rather than just their own institutions.”

“Having online access using the NHS number gives the opportunity to be clearer and transparent with the type of care provided across the spectrum and so we can provide better care.”

Health Apps

The use of healthcare apps is increasing with the launch of NHS choices health apps library last year. Over 100 free and paid apps are available for patients to use of their own devices, which may aid disease monitoring or connects them to an online community for support.

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Screen shot from NHS Choices health apps library

“All apps on the website are reviewed to ensure they personalised to the user and clinically safe,” say the representative from NHS England.

The e-health event also saw the launch of Code4Health, a new initiative aimed at NHS healthcare professionals, who can receive specialist training to develop apps and other digital tools.

This gives medical staff the opportunity to influence and create the kind of technology that could benefit their delivery of care. The initiative includes several programmes including ‘App in a day’, which will teach all the elements of App development, including coding and design, in a one day session.

Patient Online

In addition to use of apps and electronic medical records, the Patient Online programme supports GP practices in offering online services for their patients, such as options to book appointments, order repeat subscriptions and even to view their electronic medical record.

Online services allow patients to take greater control of their healthcare whilst reducing administration time for staff. Elements of this service are already in effect in the majority of GP practices across England.

Despite arguments stating that ‘only young IT savvy people’ will use the service, a recent survey by Patient.co.uk showed that 64% of users are over 35 and that 1 in 4 users are over 55.

Given the ageing population with an increased number of co-morbidities, the use of technology may be the best answer to effective management.

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