The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a digital transformation in healthcare services. From arranging your appointments online to monitoring your health, we have had to embrace new technologies to continue receiving care from our doctors remotely. Our consultant cardiologist, Dr Wajid Hussain, explains why receiving healthcare remotely might be the way forward. 

Remote healthcare could be the new normal

Over the past decade, many customer-facing services have been transformed digitally. We no longer have to queue at the bank during our lunch hour to access our accounts – they’re now a tap away on our smartphones.

Digital services have also become a lot more personal. We now have online retailers that can cleverly use artificial intelligence to recommend clothes in a style we’d love and a size most likely to fit us, saving us time to do more of the things we enjoy doing.

However, what hadn’t changed much was the way we accessed healthcare. Most of us continued seeing our doctors and nurses in person, spending time travelling to and from GP surgeries or hospitals for appointments and tests.

That all changed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Within a few weeks, we had to start booking appointments online and speaking to our doctors over the phone or video to lower our risk of getting infected.

Even in September (the most recent data available), only 57% of GP appointments in England were face-to-face and 39% were via telephone or video. This compares to the same time last year where face-to-face appointments made up 81% of all appointments. What’s more, nine in ten GPs have expressed that they want to continue delivering consultations remotely after the pandemic has ended.

Patients also seem to prefer remote consultations. An international survey of patients in six countries who received care virtually during the pandemic, showed that 60% wanted to continue managing their condition this way in future, and many felt it was more personal, convenient and timely.

Evidence of benefits

As a patient, you might question whether remote healthcare services might impact the quality of care you receive. However, even before the pandemic, there were studies ongoing to try and determine whether remote healthcare improved the experience of patients and findings have been positive.

A study at Norfolk Community Health and Care Trust showed that its remote heart and lung disease monitoring service enabled patients to better manage their condition and to access heart failure nurses and consultants as needed. There was also a reduction in A&E visits and hospital stays among high-risk patients.

Another study on a pioneering health technology service that enables doctors to remotely monitor the health and wellbeing of patients living with dementia from home has shown a significant reduction in problems associated with the condition, such as anxiety and depression.

Technology can offer convenient, patient-centred care

“We want patients to be at the centre of decision making about their health and to deliver a service that is most convenient for them – ideally from the safety and comfort of their own homes,” explains our consultant cardiologist, Dr Wajid Hussain, who is also a member of the Remote Care Board for NHSX – the digital arm of the NHS responsible for developing processes for diagnosing, monitoring and caring for patients remotely.

“Integrating new technologies into our healthcare systems to help book appointments, monitor and care for our patients remotely has great potential to improve their physical and mental wellbeing. Patients with chronic conditions don’t want to spend all their time at the GP clinic or hospital and digital tools can empower them to manage their condition, whilst enabling their healthcare team to continue delivering personalised care, efficiently.”

Dr Hussain is also the chief clinical information officer for our hospitals and is working across services to make remote care more accessible for patients, such as screening patients for atrial fibrillation in community pharmacies using an innovative hand-held technology. Our hospitals are rapidly advancing digital tools to help improve patient care. Examples include helping patients with lung infections receive intravenous antibiotics and monitoring at home – avoiding a two-week hospital stay, as well as piloting the ‘Patient Knows Best’ platform to help patients access all their medical records online.

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For more information or to book an appointment, please contact our customer care team.