Increasingly, technology is enabling patients to be more engaged in their care and is improving patient access to healthcare organisations and clinicians. More than ever, particularly with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare organisations have been forced to innovate and provide solutions to break down the traditional communication barriers between patients and clinicians. Whether the requirement is to provide video consultations, enable photos to be shared by a patient for medical reasons or receive notification of a clinic appointment or letter digitally, it is clear that these new ways of working are here to stay.
Utilising technology supported by the health and social care network (HSCN) cloud, healthcare organisations now have the ability to interact more easily with their patients. Using secure, encrypted digital pathways facilitated by cloud-based technology, information can flow seamlessly between patients and the healthcare organisations providing their care. Patients are now able to receive instant updates on their care (e.g. appointment times, virtual clinic outcomes, treatment plans) without the need for traditional paper-based letters to be sent by post, resulting in a significant time and cost saving. As we approach the post-Covid phase, healthcare organisations will be working towards getting back to business as usual and trying to reduce the elective backlog that has built up during the Covid-19 pandemic. Implementing significant system wide changes such as this, facilitated by appropriate technology, will go some way in enabling organisations to ensure patient pathways are operating at maximum efficiency, limit patient hospital contact to only the absolutely necessary episodes, and avoid unnecessary delays that occur due to inefficient communication channels.
The reduction in communication barriers between patients, primary and secondary care also has benefits in being able to provide timely and efficient treatment for certain medical conditions in a variety of settings. For example, patients can now send digitally encrypted images directly to their clinician to help with clinical diagnosis and management of a variety of conditions. This is particularly useful when reviewing skin lesions and rashes and has proven essential in allowing a variety of services (e.g. dermatology) to continue providing essential care during the Covid-19 pandemic in line with social distancing measures. A number of video platforms have launched in which encrypted hyperlinks can be shared via SMS / e-mail to a patient utilising cloud-based technology, enabling a video consultation to take place between a clinician and patient using just a mobile phone browser. Again this technology has proven to be invaluable in a number of settings allowing some key services to continue to run and provide care remotely during Covid-19 (e.g. primary care consultations, post-operative reviews, physiotherapy). Specific examples include; the ability to request post-operative wound images from patients, assessing hand function post-operatively following a tendon repair or knee range of motion assessment following a total knee replacement as part of a physiotherapy assessment.
Used in the correct clinical setting, with the appropriate training and guidance, the sharing of patient images and video consults have proven effective at managing a variety of clinical conditions, which would have traditionally been managed in a face-to-face setting. This has resulted in significant efficiency gains and may lead to a paradigm shift in how healthcare services are delivered in the future. The potential cost saving opportunities are vast, with healthcare organisations having to rethink their future strategies from a variety of perspectives, including estates, workforce and IT infrastructure. Healthcare organisations have had to utilise digital technology in order to enable clinicians to work from home and in some cases to conduct various clinics remotely where they have had to self-isolate due to possible Covid-19 symptoms. Early evidence has shown that certain clinics and patient groups can be managed effectively in a remote setting, and may go some way in offering clinicians the increased ability to work more flexibility in the future, enabling new models of care to be adopted with the ultimate goal of more efficient patient care provision.