Think about the current state of the British healthcare sector – what comes to mind? Overworked staff, budget cuts, outdated treatments and unbelievable waiting times. The media love to indulge in regular NHS bashing and as a nation we are guilty of fuelling the blame culture that has been created around the UKs health service as our belief in it slowly peters out.
Some are sceptical with regards to the role that the politicians are playing in this war, are they waiting for us to turn on each other in hope that they can play the gallant knight, providing the saving grace for the system? Leaving them as the (considerably richer) nation’s sweetheart, and yes I realise just how far fetched a politician being the nation’s sweetheart is.
There has also been much criticism of the NHS reforms; the simplification and modernisation of the processes have been chastised for being void of any human values and the public will eventually be the ones that suffer even more than they currently are.
This is where we turn to the digital revolution once again; could catching up with the time save the healthcare sector? Can the NHS be saved by nanobots, wearable technology and cloud integration?
There is much hype around the fact that millennials are not only incredibly digitally savvy but also extremely socially conscious, resulting in a focus on combining the 2 to create solutions to social and economic issues that have plagued the world for a number of years. We don’t need underhand politicians when we have Generation Y.
The Hospital Experience
Switching from analogue system to cloud software provides a multitude of opportunities and levels the playing field across all departments. Hospital departments have been notoriously fragmented when it comes to the digital system that have been implemented, and having a unified system across the entire hospital increases the level of efficiency whilst reducing costs in a number of ways.
- Becoming paperless reduces the risk of loss and misunderstanding of medication/instructions
- Integrated digital patient record system rolled out across all departments, increasing communication and real time updates that can be remotely accessed
- ‘Rover’ Barcode reader to correctly identify records patients data
- Paperless hospitals can save around £77,000 on paper costs
The IoT will have an enormous impact on the patients being treated, shorter stays with staff who are in control and up to date across the board will see the element of trust being put back into the system.
There has recently been much press surrounding the funding cuts within the Care sector, along with the introduction of the new national living wage, those suffering from Dementia and Alzheimer’s along with their families are growing increasingly concerned about the level of homecare services those in need with receive. The launch of the Save Our Homecare campaign demonstrated just how many vulnerable people rely on the care provided to them by local government.
While the budget cuts look to be going ahead, there is a beacon of light shining through. ‘Assistive Living’ technology provides an opportunity for independence through automation. Digital technology assist in the day to day management of someone with these conditions through monitoring the use of electrical appliances, indicating to caregivers and family whether devices have been turned on or off through the day; tracking devices in the form of wearable technology can provide a way of locating someone who has found themselves alone and confused.
Even medication management in the form of traditional pillboxes have received a digital makeover in the form of sound and vibration alerts to remind the patient or caregiver that medication is needed. This kind of reminder message can also be extended to other area of the home, for example locking a door when leaving the home.
The diagnosis of cancer is always a painful process for everyone involved and often involves a route fraught with trial and error to find the most effective treatment combinations, often leaving behind harrowing and debilitating side effects.
Research carried out in space stations is providing in depth insights on cures because microgravity allow 3 dimensional growth into cell cultures, a step beyond the flat cultures grown on earth. The lack of gravity closely mimics the way that diseases grow within the body. New experiments are also being put into practice to further understand the risk of secondary tumours for patients undergoing radiation therapy.
A brand new technology was unveiled last month; Hyderabad, or Next Generation Photodynamic Cancer Therapy technology uses non thermal, oxygen and photosensitizing to rapidly divide cells and destroy tissues with minimal side effects.
Surgery, Research and Organ Transplants
Every second counts in an organ transplant and the procedure, the organs are transports packed with ice to slow the rate at which they deteriorate and only preserves the organ for a maximum of 4 hours, at which time the organ is too starved of blood and oxygen to be able to function again. New transport systems are designed to artificially keep the organ warm and functioning, simulating conditions inside the body and maintaining its biochemical and metabolic systems. The new breakthroughs in organ transportation means that there will be more organs available and travelling time as distance is somewhat removed as a barrier and the organs have a higher success rate.
3D Printing has now entered the realms of producing organs and cartilage; having previously being used to produce hip joints and bones from titanium and polymer respectively. Although organs such as kidneys are currently limited to being used for research and educational purposes as they are far from functional – a closer dream is to produce organ tissue to be used for grafts. Cardiovascular structures and prosthetic limbs can also be produced from 3D printing – for humans and animals.
It was reported this year that the number amputations being carried out had risen to 135 each week; mostly down to the diabetes epidemic, 90% of which is Type 2 which is commonly linked to obesity and lifestyle.
The state of our diet and lifestyle has sent up a red flag in recent years and a number of changes in culture with the development of mobile applications to help monitor calorie intake, the increase in popularity of E Cigarettes and introduction of corporate wellness programs are set to change the mind-set of the general public. Unfortunately until this changes the healthcare stakes completely, dealing with the after math of amputations is the focus.
East Anglia based Cambridge Bio-Augmentation Systems have just been awarded £50,000 of no equity cash by start-up accelerator MassChallenge. They are in advanced stages of developing a ‘USB connector’ for prosthetic limbs to revolutionise the painful after effects of traditional amputation; ultimately dramatically reducing the cost of long and short term aftercare and make high end bionics more affordable and accessible.
This observation of specific areas that are being revolutionised is not exhaustive and over the coming years it is clear that we will begin to see a complete overhaul of the way that we approach the healthcare system, using pioneering technology as a means to prevent illness, as well as curing it. The combination of the digital age and responsibility for one’s own health, encouraged by a shift in modern culture will result in a more efficient, reliable and prosperous healthcare system.