Lawrence Christensen, Tunstall’s Marketing and Commercial Director Consumer, examines how a lack of courage and imagination is stifling innovation and integration in health and care.

In the last few weeks I’ve been to several events around the UK where health and care professionals have gathered together to discuss possible solutions to the well documented challenges facing providers.

Some common themes emerged, including the need for a more integrated and preventative approach, and a shift towards more healthcare being delivered in or near people’s own homes. All true of course, but nothing that we haven’t all heard before. What was new, however, was hearing repeatedly that health and social care are reaching a tipping point where business as usual or marginal improvements are no longer an option. There is a growing recognition that the way forward relies on large-scale, radical transformation.

The good news is that the increasing use of digital technologies offers a tangible opportunity to rethink the way we deliver services, underpinning new ways of working which are more integrated, more efficient and more preventative. Technology can help us to ensure the right care is delivered in the right place at the right time, and shift the focus from addressing crises and treating illness to helping people to maintain their independence, health and wellbeing. As the Internet of Things makes remote control of our home environment more commonplace, and cloud-based services offer secure, flexible and cost-effective platforms for service delivery, the potential for technology to revolutionise health and care has never been greater.

Digital services enable real time, relevant communications between users, professionals and families and can help services to become more person-centred rather than location-led. Shared data and insight means healthcare and social care can be coordinated and ultimately combined.

Connected Healthcare services can support a wide range of strategic aims:

Healthy ageing
Helping people to live in good health for longer by giving them tools to monitor and manage their own health at home. Using technology to manage risks such fires and falls in the home to minimise consequences. Improving quality of life and reducing the demand for health and care services

Bringing care closer to home
Technology such as remote monitoring can enable the delivery of out of hospital services, reducing reliance on acute care by preventing A&E attendance and hospital admission. This is of equal importance in both rural areas and large cities where travel time can be considerable for patients, relatives and professionals.

Proactive, preventative services
Extended use of technology can raise the awareness of those at risk, and enable targeted and timely interventions, helping to avoid more complex care being required and minimising the consequences of adverse events, such as falls.

Empowering people
Using remote monitoring such as telehealth as part of services can give patients the knowledge and confidence to manage long-term conditions in a way that suits them. New, voice activated devices can be integrated into telecare systems to enable people to have much greater control over their home environment.

Increasing capacity
Telehealth services can improve caseload management by reducing travel times for clinical staff and enabling vital signs and symptoms to be viewed remotely. Using technology to manage risks such as falls at home as part of a package of care can enable timely discharge from hospital, reducing delayed transfers of care. Using technology to monitor activities of daily living or vital signs at home can help to inform packages of care and enable early intervention. Devices such as medication dispensers and epilepsy sensors can enable care to be delivered differently, increasing independence and reducing the need for home care.

Connected healthcare services utilise real time information to support decision making, sharing web-based records to facilitate greater mobile working, increased efficiency, and a cross-organisational approach. Improved coordination of health and care enables a person’s needs to be viewed holistically, reducing demand for unplanned care.

Supporting carers and family
Connected healthcare provides tools to enable increased family involvement, regardless of location and can help to reduce carer stress and the consequent health impacts.

Improving quality of care
Technology enables the delivery of safe and effective care by managing risks and supporting early intervention, as well as giving patients independence and control, and the ability to remain at home for longer. Greater insight and integration means services become more suited patient need.

Our experience throughout the UK, and indeed around the world, has proven time and again how technology can help to improve outcomes by enabling care to be delivered closer to home. Individual services are supporting millions of people to enjoy a better quality of life; imagine what could be achieved if these services became integrated and mainstream? Rising demand and diminishing budgets may be increasing the pressure on services, but unwillingness to change may be the biggest challenge of all for the future of health and social care.

“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”
Stephen King