The crucial role of medtech solutions in virtual wards

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Due to the precautions that need to be taken to protect patient health and reduce potential risks, the healthcare sector has been typically slow to adopt new technologies and solutions, particularly compared to other industries. However, during the pandemic, the industry actively embraced innovation where wearable devices, digital health tools and telemedicine delivered important care, helping to alleviate the pressure on the NHS at a crucial time.

More recently, the NHS has deployed virtual wards, also known as the ‘hospital at home’, to remotely monitor and care for patients. An alternative to hospital care, virtual wards hold the promise of being able to improve recovery and reduce the length of stay in hospitals. However, to get the most out of the scheme, and to ensure healthcare professionals can provide effective and convenient care, the industry should look to MedTech solutions that can empower patient self-management.

Increasingly challenging landscape

The healthcare industry experienced a surge in demand during the pandemic and remains under pressure to deliver timely and effective care. This has resulted in the NHS facing a backlog of millions of patients, with high occupancy rates, and an increase in ambulance waiting times. According to recent NHS data, 53 million more GP appointments were delivered last year than pre-pandemic.

A significant proportion of this demand can be attributed to treating chronic conditions. In 2018, chronic and long-term conditions accounted for 50 per cent of GP appointments and 70 per cent of hospital beds, and these rates could be higher now. Meanwhile, in England alone, more than 15 million people have a long-term health condition that requires ongoing treatment. This shows no signs of slowing down, with an estimated 35 per cent of the adult population above 50 years of age projected to have at least one chronic condition by 2035.

Introducing virtual wards

With pressure building on the NHS to deliver timely care to patients, the rollout of virtual wards will enable healthcare professionals to manage rising rates of chronic conditions. Currently, patients who need more urgent care are less likely to receive the treatment they need due to high occupancy rates in hospitals. By utilising virtual wards, patients who previously would have been in the hospital can now be treated at home, helping to improve capacity. With the NHS’ plans of reaching net zero by 2045, virtual wards will also play a significant role in reducing home visits by nurses and the carbon emissions associated with travel.

Virtual wards also offer an alternative avenue for patient treatment through online consultations and remote monitoring. As patients are at home, they can access consultations on their computer or phone alongside necessary – but less frequent in-person visits. This improves healthcare accessibility, particularly for patients who are unable to attend in-person appointments at the hospital due to certain medical conditions or transport issues.

Empowering patients with medtech

As the virtual wards programme expands, innovations can be adopted to improve the standard of care in the home setting. In particular, leveraging self-application devices can inspire patients to manage and take charge of their own care. When used correctly, patients can improve healing and recovery rates. As their condition improves, the reliance on regular checkups by their carers can become less frequent. This gives community nurses and carers more time to deliver care to more patients.

In addition to self-application devices, wearables can further enhance virtual wards by enabling remote monitoring. This allows patients to stay at home spending more time with family and other local networks, which contributes to improved wellbeing and recovery.  Remote solutions, however, should not be a substitute for in-person healthcare delivery. For example, health reviews have been found to be more effective when delivered in person. Therefore, human intervention should continue, albeit less frequently, to ensure efficient healthcare delivery. In some cases, remote solutions may not be suitable for the patients, especially for those who may be mentally compromised, not computer literate or lack a close network of support.

Transforming modern healthcare

Healthcare systems are constantly evolving and adopting new models of care and technologies. Virtual wards are among the latest innovations changing the face of healthcare and hold significant promise in meeting the demand for healthcare services. Relieving this pressure is no simple task, but deploying virtual wards is a huge step in the right direction, and with continued advancements in MedTech and data analytics, virtual wards will play a crucial role in shaping the future of healthcare.

References available on request.

Bernard Ross

Bernard Ross is the CEO of Sky Medical Technology.

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