…

The Future of Technology in Healthcare and Social Care

In August 2021, the UK Government published a whitepaper exploring the future use of technology in health and social care as it envisages a ‘health professional workforce that is enabled by technology’.1

The paper points out that there is already a huge range of technologies available which are ready for adoption, and that together biomedical and digital technologies have huge potential – in terms of both efficiency and empowerment for health and social care professionals and outcomes for patients.1

Meanwhile, the Government is also committing significant funding to health and social care technology innovation. For instance, in June 2021, it announced £36 million in funding that will allow 38 ‘pioneering projects’ to test AI technologies in healthcare, covering all sorts from cancer diagnosis to AI-powered mental health apps. That follows an earlier investment of £50 million into similar healthcare technology innovations in September 2020.2

These developments, and a desire to build on the technology successes that were a feature of responses to the COVID-19 1 suggest that we may be at the early stages of a technology-driven transformation of health and social care.

But what does that mean for patients and healthcare professionals?

What is health technology?

First of all, it’s important to point out that the use of technology in health and social care is not new – the NHS’s £10 billion ‘Connecting for Health’ initiative was launched back in 2002 for instance.3

However, the rise of ‘smart technology’ for use in health and social care – for example health sensors that collect and share patient data via the internet – as well as the wide adoption of consumer health monitoring watches and phone apps, is helping to fuel a renewed focus on the future of technology in healthcare.

In essence, this new wave of technology in health and social care is about giving patients easier access to care and treatment, creating more efficient working practices in health and social care provision, and arming professionals with tools designed to help enable better outcomes for patients.1

Resident and patient care technology

The recent government investments in healthcare technology point to an explosion of innovation in the area – with new technologies emerging in treatments/equipment ranging from diagnosis and treatment to health monitoring and management.

Just a few of those innovations include:

  • Wearable technology: Some wearable health monitors are already in use, such as pendants that detect if a user has a fall and automatically calls for assistance. Similarly, wearable devices able to take blood glucose readings and track fluctuations via an app are in increasingly common use.4
  • Wearable technology: Some wearable health monitors are already in use, such as pendants that detect if a user has a fall and automatically calls for assistance. Similarly, wearable devices able to take blood glucose readings and track fluctuations via an app are in increasingly common use.4
  • Remote monitoring: Drinking cups with sensors able to monitor water intake are already being used to help prevent dehydration in elderly patients, and wearable devices able to directly monitor hydration levels are already in development.4
  • Telemedicine: This is essentially a suite of technology designed to monitor the well-being of patients with long-term needs and provide early warnings when acute care is required. For instance, devices to monitor heart rate, stress levels, sleep information and oxygen levels removes the need for care professionals to be present to take these readings and may contribute to more efficient, personalised care.4

Technology for health and social care professionals

Most people working in the health and social care sector will probably have noticed a steady increase in the use of technology over the years as the sector aims to streamline processes, reduce workload, improve quality of care and deliver better outcomes to the public.4

That trend seems set to continue, with some of the more recent innovations including:

  • Virtual reality and augmented reality: While virtual reality (VR) is essentially a computer-generated version of reality and very different from augmented reality (AR) – which overlays data and images over a real-world view – both are finding applications in healthcare. Most commonly in staff training, where VR and AR can put users in something approaching a real-life scenario.4
  • Smart glasses: Smart glasses, which use augmented reality technology to overlay data, information, images and video on a real-world view, are increasingly being used in healthcare too –from hands-free recording for documentation, to rapid testing diagnostics and telemedicine.5
  • Wearables: Wearable health technology linked directly to health professionals are starting to be used in order to improve outcomes for patients across health and social care. As well as the diabetes and dehydration monitors mentioned above, trials are also underway to test the use of wearables in tracking the progress of cancer patients after they have received treatment.6
  • Artificial intelligence (AI): At least 17,000 stroke patients and over 25,000 patients with diabetes or high blood pressure have benefited from treatments featuring AI-enabled technology.2

Since the pandemic there has also been a move to telehealth – could virtual GP services for example, be the norm for future healthcare provisions?

Managing the risks of health technology

While the increased use of technology can undoubtedly bring huge benefit for care residents, patients and professionals alike, changes to the way organisations operate always bring new risks – and effectively managing that risk is crucial to maximising the benefits.

When it comes to the increased use of technology in health and social care, one of the main risks relates to cyber-security and data 4 particularly given that many of the newest technologies rely heavily on internet connectivity – which may leave them vulnerable to hackers and cyber-criminals.

Clearly, robust cyber security is a crucial step in reducing that risk, but insurance is likely to play an important role too – for example, helping a care home minimise the damage and recover quickly in the event of a cyber-security incident.

Help is at hand

For further information, or help managing the risks associated with technology in health and social care, read about our care home insurance, cyber liability for care insurance, or get in touch with one of our experts for help and advice.

 

Sources

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/harnessing-technology-for-the-long-term-sustainability-of-the-uks-healthcare-system/harnessing-technology-for-the-long-term-sustainability-of-the-uks-healthcare-system-report
  2. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/36-million-boost-for-ai-technologies-to-revolutionise-nhs-care
  3. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2021/11/10/how-new-technology-can-help-clinical-quality-productivity-and-the-healthcare-workforce/
  4. https://www.highspeedtraining.co.uk/hub/technology-in-health-and-social-care/
  5. https://digitalhealthcentral.com/2021/04/18/are-smart-glasses-the-future-of-medicine/
  6. https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/trial-of-wearable-health-technology-for-cancer-patients-opens/
Tags