Bringing healthcare home to empower patients and clinicians
In years gone by, the only access that many had to healthcare was the village doctor. They’d make personal house calls to nearby patients, tackling bruises, broken bones, emergencies—and everything in between. Then, as technology and science developed, most health services relocated to larger, specialist facilities like healthcare centres and hospitals. But now that remote working is a mainstay of post-pandemic life, could parts of healthcare follow the same path—and go full circle back home?
Modernising medicine with decentralised trials
Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic are now being used to improve not just healthcare crises, but everyday medicine. Take vaccinations, for instance. A standard, pre-COVID-19 vaccine development process involved multiple stages, and often took up to ten years for the medicine to be fully authorised. To urgently combat COVID-19, new collaborative approaches to science, manufacturing and distribution were created, resulting in record-breaking vaccine rollouts. This proved that traditional methods were inefficient and no longer sustainable for our modern world.
Looking to the future, decentralised medicinal trials, in which the process is moved into the patients’ homes, can remove remaining bottlenecks and harness tech such as AI to enable even faster results. In fact, a record number of around 1,300 decentralised trials are being carried out in 2022, representing a 28% YoY increase. However, we can’t expect this to become the norm just yet. Instead, a hybrid mix of onsite patient and remote visits, using healthcare facilities closer to the patient’s home, will begin to form the basis of upcoming trials until full decentralisation is widely accepted.
Accelerating uptake of the NHS app
Another UK consequence of the pandemic was the rise of the NHS app. As the government introduced digital vaccine passports, the NHS app grew from 4m users to 18m when the COVID-19 pass facility was added in May 2021. But since then, growth has stalled, with the app still limited in other functionalities.
This seems like a huge missed opportunity. After all, third-party healthcare apps such as Babylon already offer a range of advanced features, such as video appointments with clinicians and AI-powered symptom checks. Before users delete the NHS app, healthcare leaders must strive to upgrade its services to ensure it’s fit for the future. Priorities should include self-service abilities, like offering live chat for patients to access instant health advice. AI within the app should also help to alleviate clinician admin, reducing the pressure on in-person care. The more actions that users can autonomously perform, the more efficient the NHS system becomes, helping patients access advice and treatment amid the backlog.
Carolina Wosiack, Managing Director EMEA, CI&T
Broadening healthcare through flexible services
The world contains unofficial ‘hubs’ to which people travel for specialist healthcare services, such as Brazil for plastic surgery or Turkey for cosmetic dental treatment. Even some of Britain’s hospitals specialise in certain areas, like the ‘Essex Cardiothoracic Centre’. But housing specialised knowledge in hubs can prove impractical, particularly for those who lack easy access. With the advent of remote communication, some patients shouldn’t need to travel any longer. They should be able to get an x-ray locally and forward the scan to the relevant consultants, or have a nearby clinician visit their home to carry out a blood test, rather than travel back to the original point of treatment. This will help to ease hospital bottlenecks.
Decentralisation will also support communities with little access to good healthcare practices and transport. According to the World Health Organisation, four in five developing countries worldwide offer at least one type of mobile programme to help care for their population, from health call centres to remote disaster relief support.
However, these programmes can be advanced further, particularly when provided with modern technology by governments and NGOs. After all, NGOs often hold more data on patients than healthcare systems thanks to their support systems and communities. They can also help to improve education in poorer areas through digital communications and reduce data collection costs on patient needs and experiences.
Empowering patients through greater awareness
When we discuss bringing healthcare ‘back home’, we must also consider data. Giving patients greater access to their personal health information helps them to feel more empowered and make more informed choices around their treatment. Fortunately, from November 2022, NHS England patients with online accounts, such as through the NHS app, will finally be able to read new entries in their health records. This transparency increases trust, boosts engagement, helps patients practice self-care, and leads to faster healing - perhaps the true meaning behind ‘bringing healthcare back home’.
Ultimately, we won’t see the return of the village doctor any time soon. But ‘care at home’ looks set to form a growing portion of healthcare services due to its multiple stakeholder benefits. Taxpayers will enjoy lower medical costs through a minimisation of preventable health issues and lower-cost sites of care. Healthcare providers can use any savings brought by home care to invest in additional services, and clinicians can focus on urgent patients while benefiting from fewer pressures. Plus, technology companies have the potential to capture a substantial market opportunity— while patients can receive the healthcare that they need, whenever and wherever they prefer it. Now that’s a home advantage.