Digital health technology is saving the NHS billions
A report has shown the issue of bed blocking in the NHS is being solved via the use of remote monitoring technology. The widespread roll-out of mobile and digital health technology could have already saved the NHS over £1bn in the last five years by enabling patients to leave hospital sooner, according to a report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
The 'Remote Health Management: Reducing Bed Blocking in the NHS' report calls for the Department of Health to create a standardised Remote Health Management network by 2020. This secure digital network would provide acute and social care providers with easy access to patient data and remote monitoring, and allow for the faster discharge of patients from hospital.
Caring for patients at a residential care home or at home is at least 70% cheaper than care in hospital and also sees a reduced risk of contracting potentially lethal hospital acquired infections. Dr Helen Meese, Head of Healthcare at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “Unnecessary delays to patients being discharged from hospital are a problem for health workers, taxpayers and patients alike. They lead to critical NHS resources being wasted and, often, the distress of patients keen to return home.
“Technology to monitor patients remotely is a key way they could be safely discharged from hospital earlier. Currently trials of this technology in the NHS have been sorely lacking.
“Government needs to urgently introduce a secure standardised Remote Health Management network to connect hospitals with social care providers to enable people to live more independent lives and free up much needed NHS hospital beds. Government should also look to ring-fence some of the £20-30m from the Accelerated Access Review to develop these technologies further to ensure they achieve their full potential.”
The National Audit Office estimated that delayed transfer or ‘bed blocking’ costs the NHS £820m in 2015, while September 2016 saw one of the highest recorded monthly delays in patient transfers since records began.
The institution’s report makes four key recommendations:
- Improving public awareness: The Department of Health (DoH) should create a programme of national public awareness to encourage acceptance of RHM technology and home-based services provided by the NHS, before the end of the ‘Personalised Health and Care 2020’ initiative.
- Changing culture with existing workforce: The NHS should draw upon its existing workforce of biomedical engineers to implement change and increase engagement in RHM systems throughout its services. It should carry out a feasibility study before the end of the Five Year Forward Plan to set targets for cost savings that could be made.
- Creating a national RHM network: The DoH must commit to a strategy for creating an RHM network to integrate acute and social care sectors by 2020. This needs to ensure implementation of RHM systems is undertaken across both sectors by 2022 at the latest. A key element will be standardisation of RHM technology that enables patient data to be accessed anywhere in the hospital and social care network.
- Simplifying funding routes and initiatives: The government must ring-fence some of the £20-30m identified in the Accelerated Access Review, specifically for developing RHM systems. It should also simplify the routes to funding sources for healthcare technology and create a single pathway to funding. Government also needs to focus funding on schemes like the NHS Test Bed programme which optimises the use of different types of technology.