The key digital healthcare trends to watch

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the NHS and, in the last decade, this iconic institution has made major strides in terms of digital innovation. But what lies ahead? Here Paul Timms, managing director at MCSA, looks at some of the digital innovations that could transform the institution in the years to come

Over the last decade the NHS has been at the forefront of digital transformation and, as such, patients are changing the way they are choosing to access the service. Patients now have access to a library of information through the NHS Web Portal, including the availability of health records online, as well as mobile apps and text updates to further improve communication and reduce costs on the NHS.

Part of the NHS’ Five Year Forward View is the commitment to a paperless patient recording system by 2020. In order to address this, healthcare organisations are identifying the need to build out, run and maintain infrastructure for digital record-keeping. This is where cloud computing becomes an appealing choice.

Patients and healthcare providers both tend to get better access to records through cloud-based solutions, and they make the consultation process more convenient. Patients can already book referred appointments online, and we can expect to see NHS trusts working to improve the booking service, as well as the access to records. The variety of cloud-based platforms now available allow the variety of NHS trusts a choice on how they publish their platforms and with NHS Digital offering guidance and advice to the trusts with examples of what has worked and what hasn’t, IT departments can deploy with confidence. With such personal data it continues to be an imperative that organisations are clear about their requirements and that these are monitored stringently.  

Artificial intelligence in healthcare
The NHS is leading the world in terms of IT within healthcare. The technology available in our universities and within the NHS allows for new research and innovation treatment testing. Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies will play a part in this. The development of AI is processing information and allowing for a decision-making capacity that is increasingly more human-like. Although AI shouldn’t be considered a replacement for human interaction, these applications can provide improvements to the diagnosis process. The healthcare sector has seen large growth in both the speed and the accuracy of these processes, which has impressed us all in how productive AI is becoming in such a quick time.

There is the potential for AI and other technologies, such as new diagnostic tools and the application of genomics, to create synergies. These synergies will yield digital transformation in healthcare, and mobile devices along with IoMT systems will drive increases in the sizes of data sets.

Chatbots and telemedicine
The way that people use services has changed considerably over the past decade, and over the next two years the NHS is planning to make significant steps towards increasing how its services are accessed online. Already, 95 per cent of GP’s offer an online appointment booking service, and patients can now access a virtual health assistant for advice on symptoms. These AI-backed messaging and voice systems offer cost savings to the organisations. Healthcare professionals can focus on what matters, while patients are able to obtain the reassurance they are looking for in their questions being answered.

These technologies will continue to be developed and become more accessible to everyone. It won’t ever replace the diagnosis of the experts but, with 10.4 million people registered for NHS online services, they will allow time to be spent where it could be arguably better suited.

IT is providing healthcare from a distance and telemedicine is becoming one of the biggest changes in healthcare. Throughout the UK there are accessibility issues with many of the population suffering in terms of distance and transport. Telemedicine will allow providers the opportunity to overcome these barriers and will improve access to medical services. It provides services to less accessible communities and is improving the diagnosis and treatment of patients nationally. The electronic records are available, and specialists are now about to forward documents electronically to specialists and, along with video chat platforms, this will continue to develop and enhance the telehealth services.

With an ageing population and tighter budget controls, significant challenges lay ahead for the NHS in the coming years. However, with enabling technology, the UK public can expect higher levels of professional care and more individually designed care programmes.