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How new technology is enabling care outside hospital

With increasing pressure on healthcare services – hospitals in particular – there is more and more emphasis on how tech might be harnessed to improve provision in different care settings. Via social media and retail outlets, there is the opportunity to reach swathes of the population with healthcare advice and basic care. As well as easing pressure on surgeries and hospitals, these platforms may also serve to implement the idea of prevention rather than treatment.

Care from home

Direct medical care (in hospital) generally covers just the first 20% of patient recovery time, the remaining 80% is provided by the health and social care that surrounds it. It’s therefore important that we provide patients and care teams with the information and tools they need to monitor and proactively support patient recovery once they’ve left hospital.

Graphic of patient recovery using out of hospital care

The aim going forward is to use digital solutions to improve the whole experience of healthcare; from triage through to treatment, education and support. We can reduce the barriers to people accessing healthcare from a remote environment – enabling the ‘hospital at home’ – by connecting caregivers and providing information, support and advice remotely. The introduction of 5G will be a key factor in improving speed, responsiveness and robustness to make remote care a reality.

Care advice via social media

Facebook have recently introduced programs which seek to utilise the reach they have to deliver healthcare advice to swathes of people. Recent trials have shown how healthcare advice through outlets different to traditional healthcare professionals can be effective. In a trial where barbers – as trusted members of Afro-American male communities – checked blood pressure and advised follow-ups with pharmacists, this localised advice through trusted peers achieved a reduction in systolic hypertension of 31% amongst males in their community.

Out of hospital care using social media

Scale that up to the proportions of the world’s most popular social media platform, and it’s not hard to imagine how it might move the needle on some of the bigger healthcare issues. Giving general healthcare advice greater reach within populations may also make health outcomes less biased to socio-economic factors. It’s estimated that 55% of healthcare issues derive from social determinants of health; current life expectancy in California is 85 compared to 65 in Mississippi.

Care from retail outlets

Wal-Mart have announced a new health program too. 95% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Wal-Mart store, and the corporation thus have vast potential to deliver low cost, quality healthcare to millions who may be uninsured or underinsured. This can help remove the barriers to equal care across numerous services from teeth cleaning, vision and behavioural health, to primary care diagnosis and treatments.

It’s a model we’ve seen a shift towards here in the UK, with services historically delivered by the NHS now being provided on the high street by the likes of Boots or Specsavers. Digital tech such as ‘Point of Care diagnostics’ and cloud connected systems allow some services to be undertaken by trained pharmacist employees, supported by clinicians remotely to do the analysis and provide advice. This can free up hospitals to focus on the services that only they provide.

Out of hospital care via retail outlets

Our recent work on an all-in-one hearing health assessment device with Tympa Health is a perfect example of new tech enabling care outside of traditional healthcare settings. The innovative device, recently nominated for a UX Design Award, has been designed with the core aim of utilising smartphone technology to make hearing tests and ear wax removal a more accessible procedure, capable of being carried out in high street pharmacies by trained staff. The device is also making complete hearing health checks more accessible in less economically developed nations, where care and advice from healthcare specialists is less widely available.

Though hospitals and surgeries remain a crucial backbone of healthcare everywhere, the development of care outside these settings will only progress. We have certainly seen a flurry of new technologies and digital solutions as ‘connected’ medical devices emerge in the industry; it will be interesting to see which of these are commercially successful as new methods of remote care.

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