Over the last few months, digital healthcare has been propelled into the limelight as one of the crucial courses of action to tackle the increasing strain on NHS resources while protecting vulnerable patients. In this article, we hear from Simon Applebaum, managing director of Spirit Digital who shares four of the biggest ways digital healthcare is helping the NHS.
“We’ve seen the uptake of the use of technology like never before.” 
Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
As set out in the NHS Long Term Plan, there will be a large focus on making better use of data and digital technology to get the most value for patients and provide better support for staff. It also outlines aims to help more people live independently at home for longer and encourage collaboration between healthcare providers.
Although it can be argued that COVID-19 is responsible for the rapid adoption of digital healthcare, the wide range of benefits of digitalisation existed before the pandemic and will exist and continue to multiply long after.
1. Extends capacity
One of the most important elements of digital healthcare is remote monitoring. The key benefit of remote monitoring is that it promotes a preventative approach to healthcare and strives to reduce unplanned hospital admissions.
By enabling clinicians to check up on patients on a regular basis in ‘virtual wards’ they can flag any potential issues and prevent patients requiring emergency services. As a result, this can drastically increase capacity for the NHS by reducing A&E activity.
The capability to track patients’ health also allows healthcare providers to discharge patients earlier than usual, releasing more beds.
Our investigation into the ‘Combined interventions for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) admissions within an urban setting’ found that the use of digital healthcare reduced hospital admissions, within a sample group, from 222 to 74 over a 12-month period.
2. Saves time, money and resources
By allowing clinicians to speak to patients without meeting in person, it reduces travelling time and thus enables them to manage more patients simultaneously. Time is a precious resource especially for an understaffed workforce, so embracing digital solutions that make processes quicker, easier, and more convenient is crucial.
Digital healthcare can optimise NHS resources by supporting the management of long-term conditions. From video call consultations to empowering patients to self-manage at home, digital health solutions can help reduce hospital visits and enable early discharges. Considering that patients with long term conditions make up an estimated 50% of GP appointments, 64% of outpatient appointments and over 70% of inpatient bed days, improving how long-term conditions are managed is vital in order to save costs and resources.
As a result of our investigation into ‘Cost Saving Intervention For Patients With Severe Breathlessness’, we found that the use of the remote monitoring platform ‘CliniTouch Vie’, saved £177,550 over a 12 month period by reducing hospital admissions for 28 patients living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This is just one example of how Digital Healthcare can improve the lives of patients while saving costs.
The 15.4 million people who live with one or more long-term conditions, in England, are estimated to be around 70% of the cost of the NHS and social care. With this under consideration, embracing digital could potentially save the NHS millions.
3. Aids communication
One of the greatest benefits of digital healthcare is its ability to improve communication between healthcare providers and patients. Offering multiply channels of communication including video, phone and instant messaging, digital health platforms help patients get advice and care faster without having to leave the comfort of their own homes.
This is especially significant for patients who live in remote areas and do not have easy access to healthcare facilities. As highlighted in the NHS’ document on ‘Improving access for all: reducing inequalities in access to general practice services’, patients who have poorer access to health services have poorer outcomes which can adversely impact their life expectancy. Thus, providing patients with easier access to clinicians via digital channels can provide better outcomes and prevent their life expectancy being negatively affected. Digital communication can also facilitate and enhance interactions between healthcare providers themselves.
For example, remote monitoring platforms can create a direct link between care homes and GPs to support the daily observation and care of residents. Enabling carers to quickly update GPs on the residents’ conditions, the providers can work together more efficiently to spot deterioration and prevent unplanned hospital admissions.
4. Improves patients’ lives
Arguably the most meaningful way digital is supporting healthcare, is by helping the NHS significantly improve the lives of patients. Particularly for patients with long term conditions, by reducing the number of doctor and hospital appointments required, the patients are empowered to be more independent and lead relatively ‘normal’ lives. Whether it means allowing a patient to rest in the comfort of their own home or enabling a patient to continue with full-time work with less interruptions, digital can enhance their quality of life.
Digital healthcare is also capable of providing education for patients to help them take control of their conditions, manage symptoms more effectively and prevent future complications. Our study into the ‘Combined interventions for COPD admissions within an urban setting’ found that patients who used CliniTouch Vie, which offers educational resources, were more knowledgeable about their condition, more confident in managing it and motivated to adopt positive behaviour to improve their health.
Check out the video below showcasing some patient feedback:
It is worth noting that for members of society who are currently isolating, providing healthcare digitally is particularly useful for helping to prevent health issues and thus prevent hospital admissions. By conducting consultations over the phone or on video call, patients can remain shielded and receive medical advice without compromising their health.
Matt Hancock has already stated how the ‘culture has radically changed’, with more healthcare workers showing enthusiasm for the digitalisation of health services and an eagerness for future developments. Understanding how digital healthcare has already advanced the NHS, it is certainly exciting to picture how the NHS will be transformed by digital solutions in the months and years to come.
 Department of Health. 2012. Long-term conditions compendium of Information:3rd edition. London: The Kings Fund.