The pandemic means the health sector has had its most challenging and transformative year ever.
In 2020 we saw an increased collaboration between hospitals, social care organisations and the supporting ecosystems of private and public sector organisations to fight coronavirus.
The move to integrated care systems had already identified digitalisation and integrated solutions as key pillars to improve patient experience and support the drive for treatment closer to home.
The pandemic has driven the need for intelligent use of data and improved use of technology, genomics, and artificial intelligence (AI) to track health risks, infection outbreaks, and vaccination programmes. Data modelling is at the forefront of decision making like never before. This approach will be extended to enable digital technology and behavioural science to focus on tackling determinants of health and inequalities.
All these factors contribute to some key trends, widespread adoption of new ways of working, and the use of data to personalise care in hospitals and the healthcare sector more broadly. Many of these elements will require significant initial investment to implement to reduce costs in future.
This raises challenges in relation to:
- How data is captured, analysed, and shared between hospitals, primary care and allied health providers
- The co-ordination between private services such as biotechnology and connected devices and patient healthcare records
- The technological and IT infrastructure and investment required by hospitals to embed new ways of working
- Recruitment and training of staff to upskill them in the analysis of data and use of emerging diagnostic tools and treatment approaches
- Where services can be delivered by hospitals and the space needed to facilitate increasing digital services
- ‘Open sourcing’ – making solutions available for the developer community to meet evolving needs
- More standardisation of collection and storage of data to enable consistent/usable data provision
Focus on healthy ageing rather than health and care
There are two major drivers behind this:
- The pandemic has led to a shift in focus onto individuals taking action to prevent illness and disease (not only COVID-19 but also other health conditions); and
- The significant advancements in accessible technology mean that individuals can regularly monitor their own health and care data effectively through apps, wearable technology, and connected devices.
These developments encourage behavioural change, allowing people to manage their own health proactively. The creation of health and wellness coaches (chatbots or real-life people) has also supported this shift.
These developments mean there will be many sources of health and care data in real-time at the individual patient level. This will allow consistent monitoring, reduce routine appointments and enable more timely and personalised interventions. In turn, this will reshape patient pathways, allowing a holistic approach to health issues as opposed to treatments being driven by organisational structures and not patient needs.
Health and care settings
The health sector was moving towards integrated care systems before the pandemic and this has accelerated over the last year.
In addition, many general practice, community, and mental health appointments have shifted to virtual consultations due to coronavirus restrictions.
This has proven the concept works and there will be a continued use of digital triaging to signpost patients to the most appropriate care setting. Primary care will shift its focus towards patient-centric health and care models and personalised care plans.
Advanced connectivity, including personal health devices will allow real-time monitoring, combining data from biosensors, and enabling prediction and assessment of disease and treatments.
It will also reduce the need for in-patient appointments and consequently the space and footprint of the healthcare operations (i.e. hospitals, general practice, community health, allied health).
New diagnostic and treatment paradigms
Globally organisations are now starting to use AI and technology to help diagnosis (i.e. NHS organisations in the UK).
This trend is expected to accelerate with diagnoses and treatment being based on technological and scientific advancements including digital therapeutics, epigenetics, and AI. The implementation of AI, nanotechnology, quantum computing, and fifth-generation technologies will enable faster, customed diagnostics and bespoke patient pathways. Clinicians will use these tools to combine clinical and behavioural data to offer evidence-based prevention and treatment. This has the potential to increase success rates for individuals and lower care costs for the health service.
Treatments will develop beyond the traditional clinical and pharmaceutical interventions to include 3D bioengineering of transplantable organs and skin grafts, gene editing, and implantable microchips.
Training for clinicians and professionals will shift away from knowledge transfer to developing cognitive, digital, emotional, and analytical skills, helping professionals communicate more effectively across specialities and use the technology available to them.
A brave new world
All these digital developments could revolutionise the way hospitals operate globally.
To make the most of the current opportunities, the health sector has a huge task, against the backdrop of recovering from the pandemic, to ensure services are fit for the future. Every person’s health journey is different. Health care organisations should acknowledge this and design their services to elevate each encounter into a personalised health experience.
COVID-19 has ignited unprecedented collaboration across organisations and specialisms, and demonstrated the value of partnering to deliver new solutions and improved outcomes for service users.
Deploying new digital tools and services has the potential to enhance the patient experience, treat them more safely, improve medication adherence, and help consumers track and monitor their health.
While patients are more willing to share their data, hospitals and other health care organisations should ensure that the data serves consumers’ needs through adequate interoperability between the organisations. To maintain or even re-earn the trust of service users, organisations should demonstrate reliability, transparency, and most importantly, a sense of empathy in how they operate.
Data and digital technology will be at the heart of the system working. The integrated care systems (ICS) will need a named accountable authority/officer, with clear accountability for data and digital technology, to develop a system-wide digital transformation plan.