British healthcare has all the ingredients to flourish in a technologically driven future
Consultant Ophthalmologist and CEO of CHEC, Imran Rahman, discusses the development of health tech and its potential to reduce human error and ease hospital waiting lists.
Recent years have seen the narrative around UK healthcare dominated by discussion of high demand and slow movement, with NHS waiting lists at an all-time peak of 7.22 million. Despite these problems, Britain possesses an important resource, key to rapidly advancing its healthcare offering: its dominance in the development of innovative health tech.
Through the increased use of technology, British healthcare has the potential to simultaneously improve its quality while streamlining services and cutting down on waiting lists. With investment in UK healthcare technology soaring over the past decade – growing nine-fold between 2016 and 2021 – Britain has developed into a leading nation in the global health tech revolution, a prominence which will be crucial in supporting the country’s healthcare services over the coming years.
Lending a robotic hand, or four…
Over the past century, medicine has witnessed an exponential progression in both its breadth and its sophistication; yet in spite of this rapid development, healthcare is far from immune to the risks of human error. The next step for medicine – and one which has already begun in earnest – is to develop technology which can significantly reduce and even eliminate the impact of human error and knock on delays or pressures.
Through ever-improving robotic technologies, medical professionals protect their patients from human fallibility. The Da Vinci System is one such example. The four-armed robot, specifically designed for medical use, has been employed by the NHS for over two decades; yet the past few years have witnessed an explosion in Da Vinci’s usage across a vast array of medical procedures and innovative surgeries. With the increased precision they offer, these “robotic surgeons” play a significant part in reducing human error while at the same time streamlining procedures to render them less invasive, minimising healing time and further potential costs to the NHS.
Beyond putting a barrier between patient care and human error, healthcare technologies can help surgeons hone their own skills, thereby improving their own accuracy. The use of virtual reality simulations to practise procedures provides doctors with the opportunity to perfect their technique and anticipate challenges, without risking a patient’s welfare. With investment in health tech soaring over recent years, the growing application of technologies such as Da Vinci and augmented reality will be the major factor in advancing the quality of UK healthcare into the future.
Cutting down on waiting lists
To have a tangible impact on reducing waiting lists, it is vital that British healthcare continues to advance and embrace cutting-edge technology. Alongside reducing human error, surgical robots such as Da Vinci have the capacity to minimise the risks of medical procedures – reducing the chance of complications and length of recovery time, and consequently freeing up hospital beds for other patients. Through technological progress, quality of care can go hand in hand with efficiency of service.
Moreover, technology can help to streamline processes across all aspects of healthcare. Indeed, since the COVID-19 pandemic, day-to-day healthcare has taken a clear step towards the digital, with over 54,500 healthcare and medical apps available on the Google Play Store by the end of 2022.
The function of such apps varies widely – from apps designed to help patients manage their health, to systems used by medical practices to schedule appointments and reduce the time spent on administration. Indeed, open-source artificial intelligence (AI), such as ChatGPT, is now being employed by doctors and researchers to process huge amounts of previous medical data and thereby improve individual diagnoses.
With such a broad range of possibilities, these healthcare apps – such as CHEC’s own booking app – have the dual impact of reducing patient stress and increasing the efficiency of GPs, hospitals, pharmacies, and medical centres. While COVID-19 may have acted as an accelerant for the development of digital technologies, their applicability beyond the pandemic is becoming increasingly clear.
A digital future
British healthcare has all the ingredients to flourish in a technologically-driven future. From its tech triangle – embracing Oxford, Cambridge, and London – to the soaring investment channelled into healthtech innovation, the UK is in an excellent position to carry the standard into a new age for medicine.
The possibilities of health tech are endless. By facilitating new research, improving standards of medical practice, and expediting the patient experience, technology offers an answer to growing waiting lists currently experienced across the UK. What is key now is that healthcare providers embrace this opportunity, exploring the myriad ways that technology can be advanced in support of medicine and thereby ensuring a brighter future for healthcare in Britain.