How Does Virtual Care Improve Healthcare Delivery?
Whilst the world moves on from Covid-19, what is clear is that its impact on global healthcare provision will be felt for many years to come. Despite startling waiting list figures from the NHS, however, it is also useful to note how quickly the health service has adapted its service and delivery in order to cope with the pandemic and its aftermath. This is thanks, in large part, to their rapid adoption of a technology which was waiting to happen – virtual care.
As is often the case, what started out as a necessity, is fast becoming a source of innovation and creativity for the NHS:
Image sharing technology is now used by geographically remote clinicians to share their specialist knowledge when dealing with difficult patient cases.
Ambulances caught up in a queueing system are being adapted as mobile A&E facilities, as paramedics are now able to access critical care expertise instantly.
The reduction of travelling to and from surgeries and hospitals is being seen as a significant cut in carbon emissions as the NHS continues to work towards Net Zero.
Are Patients Ready for an Expansion of Virtual Care?
“I feel that as long as face to face consultations can still take place where needed and necessary, a virtual health service would be beneficial for both patients and doctors.”
– UK NHS patient
Patients too have been adapting to a new healthcare landscape over the past two years. For the majority, virtual care has allowed them to maintain contact with a GP throughout lockdown periods and continues to alleviate pressures on GP surgeries as they deal with the post-Covid backlog.
However, the move to a more comprehensively remote experience of healthcare has still to be trialled at scale. Where remote pathways have already been trialled, there is optimism that they can be scaled successfully:
“We’ve put in place a maternity pathway onto our covid pathway; we’ve tried it with COPD patients; we have established a really successful asthma pathway.”
“We’ve had about 300 asthma patients onboarded onto that pathway, allowing them to be either not admitted or discharged early. And by doing that we’ve cut our asthma bed days by at least 30 per cent.”
Doccla UK provides the monitoring technology patients use in their own homes, and the online dashboard which allows clinicians to monitor their virtual patients. Clinicians working in this way note that the system allows them to respond quickly to patients should there be a need. And patients will most likely appreciate a reduction in the number of face-to-face appointments necessary for their care.
“I feel like half my life is either making or rescheduling appointment due to a chronic illness, so a virtual system would make my life a lot easier. The changes so far have been massively better and virtualising makes it more accessible and it saves time and money. It stops me having to drive for 2 hours for a 15m appointment and then take time out of my working day.”
– UK NHS patient
Preparing for a Healthcare Transformation
There is widespread awareness in the UK, amongst HCPs and NHS users, that the old model of the healthcare system is no longer fit for purpose. The scaling of virtual care could alleviate the scarcity of hospital beds, improve care for chronically ill patients, and enhance services for patients who cannot easily attend in-person appointments. There are, however, a number of important considerations.
Standards for Virtual Care. The applications chosen for use in virtual care will need to be intuitive, easy to use, and universally applied
Educational Resources for Patients. The role of the patient will be a more proactive in a virtual healthcare environment. In order to facilitate this, there will need to be clear, multilingual resources to support patients through the transition.
The Role That Medical Market Research Has to Play
As health systems move online patients’ ability to adopt new technologies, and accept their efficacy, will be key. In the past LDA Research has helped to test medical devices, and convened focus groups for patients to discuss specific medical treatments. The feedback this kind of qualitative research produces is likely to provide important information for design and deployment of virtual software.