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How is technology changing healthcare?

Did you know that if the NHS makes no savings the estimated funding gap will reach £30 billion by 2020/211? If the NHS makes a saving of 2-3% that gap falls to £8 billion, an optimistic target since the NHS’ current savings have been estimated at 1.5% a year. The Kings Fund2 revealed that fifty years ago the NHS took 3.4 per cent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) which according to Engineering and Technology Magazine has increased rapidly over the years to be closer to 8 per cent with the Office for Budget Responsibility suggesting that these figures could at least double to 16 per cent within another 50 years.

The rapid increase in spending on the NHS is suggested as being connected to the constant healthcare services provided to those living with lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, as these conditions are often linked to obesity. In 2014 cases of diabetes increased to more than 3.2 million3 with Diabetes UK explaining that this rise is largely fuelled by those being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and it is often linked to both obesity and unhealthy lifestyles. Around 10% of the NHS’s budget is spent on the long term treatment of diabetes with 80% being used to treat consequences of the condition such as amputation, kidney failure, heart disease and stroke3.

So how can technology help to improve healthcare and reduce the NHS funding gap?

Recently the NHS shared their plans to use technology and data to help plug the NHS funding gap4. Tim Kelsey, National Director for Patients and Information for the NHS attributed a growing and ageing population to the funding issues faced by the NHS and has prioritised this issue as a main focus. He also said the use of technology and data along with new models of care could save as much as a third of the shorthand of which is £22 billion. One way in which the NHS wishes to create improvement is by providing accessibility to data i.e. medical records, a strategy that is already in motion; from March 2015 93% of GPs in the UK have signed up to provide online appointments, online access to records and online repeat prescriptions.  

Some are suggesting the investment in self-care technologies could also help to reduce spending Self-care is a technology that is already available both through the NHS and privately. According to NHS Choices5 ‘Telehealth’ and ‘Telecare’ are services that allow you to live more independently and allow you to monitor your health from the comfort of your own home. Designed for those suffering with long-term conditions such as diabetes these services include wearable technology such as a personal alarm system and in-house health monitoring equipment. The Telecare service includes a wide range of various alarm system technologies from personal alarms that alert a family member or nurse that something is wrong to motion sensors, designed to reduce falls by automatically turning on lights. These types of technology are said to be helping to improve healthcare by reducing the number of visits to our GPs and unplanned visits to hospital.      

Can technology encourage us to be healthier?

As well as possibly leading to a technology revolution in healthcare it is claimed that technology can also help to encourage us to be healthier2. The NHS’ Medical Director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh said, “With the public fitness habit intensifying and technology growing more intelligent, we are likely to see wearables playing a pivotal role in medical diagnostics, information sharing and general health in the not-too-distant future”.2  

A worldwide survey by Medical News Today found that 54% of us believe that technology is making us healthier, whereas the remaining percentage felt that it wasn’t improving our health and making us more sick6.  Although studies have shown that prolonged screen times are contributing to an increase in medical issues such as obesity it is possible it can also help us to implement a healthier lifestyle. Global Chief Executive Officer of Universal McCann, Daryl Lee, who oversees the global management of clients such as Coca Cola and Hersheys, said, “There is an exciting technological revolution in the wellness arena today which is empowering consumers, and transforming our health. However, with obesity seen as the number one threat to future health, there are also concerns that technology is encouraging bad behaviours.” He added, “The good news is that 94% of consumers say brands have a role in supporting their wellness needs.  There has never been a better time for brands to lead positive change.”

From Apple’s Health App to activity trackers such as the trendy Fitbit there are many various types of technology on the market designed by to help encourage us to live a more active and healthier lifestyle. 

Public opinion suggests that it’s almost 50/50 when it comes to the question; ‘can technology encourage us to be healthier?’ The belief seems to be that different forms of technology such as health and fitness apps are encouraging us to make positive lifestyle changes whereas other forms such as television or social media are perhaps encouraging unhealthy choices and making us fatter5.

Over the next month we will talking about various aspects of our new digital platform which is available exclusively to Health-on-Line members, ‘Activeplus’. So stay tuned for our upcoming blogs which will be ranging from the latest information on health and fitness technology to product reviews. 

Sources: 

1. Full Fact – NHS ‘Black hole’ – the size of the funding gap to 2020
2.
2.1 Engineering and Technology Magazine – Healthcare and wearable technology: monitoring the connected body
2.2 Kings Fund – Spending on health and social care over the next 50 years
3. BBC News – Cases of diabetes increase to more than 3.2m
4. NHS – Use of technology and data can help plug NHS funding gap
5. NHS Choices – Telecare and Telehealth technology
6. Medical News Today – Is technology making us healthier or sick?

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