In most walks of modern life, society is now enjoying an unprecedented period of technological advancement, enabling much swifter and efficient forms of communication. However, whilst the general public grows ever more comfortable with digital electronic interaction, such as online banking, airline booking/check-in and supermarket self-service checkouts, etc. it can sometimes seem that much of this new technology has passed the NHS by, ignoring changes in social attitudes and public demand.
To say the NHS has ignored the use of such technology would be both untrue and unfair. However, whilst there are exciting and original NHS projects to be found in areas such as patient self-registration, online questionnaires, repeat prescriptions and portals, in the main most such systems still rely in some way on the support of conventional mail postage or the manual collection of a paper form, containing password and login details from the local General Practitioner or health care centre.
More and more patients expect to be able to manage parts of their healthcare remotely using modern communication technologies, as they do with other areas of their life.
Modern health culture rightly focusses on greater involvement of patients in their own care, and a fundamental move towards a re-balancing of the patient-NHS relationship, allowing patients to become active participants in their own care rather than recipients of a prescribed approach.
Part of the response to this change has been for health services to examine how well patient pathways, service configurations and opportunities for patients to access services improve patient care. Importantly, new technologies now mean that the opportunities available to the NHS are greater than ever before.
Consider patient kiosks. Now widely adopted in the retail, travel sector and Primary Health Care, many people are familiar with this understandable and straightforward way of accessing a service or performing a task. Healthcare services need not be an exception to the benefits that other industries are offering to customers, and can also reap the rewards in terms of improved efficiency and greater patient engagement.
Internet-enabled healthcare software is another big step forward. Unlike previous technologies, this new approach means a much more flexible and accessible deal for participating Trusts. Software that is accessed using a web browser is perfectly secure, yet is also accessible across the Trust in real-time. Importantly, the opportunity for access to vital information from home or on the move is now a reality.
The benefits that these technologies offer to health services are enormous. Trusts are able to think far more flexibly about treatment locations and staff access to patient information outside such traditional locations with the added benefit of not having to locate and transfer paper records. Similarly, patients are offered a greater range of opportunities to access healthcare and are therefore more likely to do so.
Perhaps adoption of new technologies has taken longer than some would have envisaged, but now is the time for health services to fully exploit the opportunities available and to unlock the real potential of the service improvements that are possible.