Over the past year, remote care has been delivered out of necessity which has forced both medical professionals and patients to adapt quickly. As the UK opens up again, health officials have announced that patients can once again see their GPs in person. Yet, there is now an opportunity to cement important changes to the healthcare system and provide long-term remote care through the use of technology. A failure to do so would be a missed opportunity.
Whilst many patients prefer the convenience of remote healthcare, it may not be suitable for everyone. We need to consider those who are digitally excluded or find using technology to stay in touch with clinical teams challenging or inaccessible. Beyond this, virtual healthcare also needs to work for those with a complex diagnosis, like cancer.
The new normal?
The pandemic has proved to be a turning point for remote care. Many patients are now self-managing their treatment and monitoring their health, empowered by wearable technology to claim control while remaining safe and being connected with clinicians and nurses.
A recent Accenture report found that four in 10 patients (44%) started using new devices or apps during COVID-19 to help manage their conditions, and more than 90% of those using a new device or app rated the experience ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ and want to continue using them.
In particular, we have witnessed accelerated innovation and transformation in cancer care. At-home cancer treatment and oral chemotherapy has increased significantly during the pandemic, as a way of helping to aid patient safety and minimise risk from hospital exposure. Within the last 12 months, the demand for homecare services, for both NHS and private healthcare patients has increased significantly.
As we move beyond the peak of the pandemic, it is clear that remote monitoring needs to evolve to accommodate more patients and healthcare professionals long-term.
Empowering patients with technology
It is important to recognise not all patients have an appetite for digital or remote care – whether this is access to devices, age or language barriers. We need to listen to the concerns of these people to build a health system that is inclusive to all. Remote consultations have been enforced by Covid-19 but, as we move forward, technology blended with in person care, can enable a personalised care pathway for each patient.
We also need to work on the communication and education around technology within healthcare to ensure that its benefits are understood and embraced from all sides. The hybrid model of homecare and digital care has been truly transformative, advancing the patient experience and providing significant benefits to professionals and patients. However, further advancements can still be made.
Using wearables to track temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, weight and activity levels, medical professionals can monitor patients in real-time. Doctors and nurses can then anticipate issues during treatment, prioritise at-risk patients for in-person consultations, and intervene with potentially life-saving advice and support.
Having instant access to this in depth, real-time information provides consultants with greater confidence whether a patient receives treatment at home or in a hospital setting. Technology has a crucial role to play in helping healthcare providers deliver effective, scalable care, as well as enhancing patient safety and improving the experience.
The future of cancer care, and healthcare more broadly, has to include an innovative and holistic approach. Providing patients with useful and accessible digital tools to better equip them whether they opt for in-person or remote care will transform the patient experience and lead to better outcomes.
This article was first published in TechRound.