Better health, connected health: report summary

A recent strategy report, commissioned by Vodafone, shows a strong appetite for an array of connected health services. ‘Better health, connected health’ charts changing attitudes and greater openness – among patients and practitioners – toward technology in healthcare. And how 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) can transform care in clinical settings, in the home and the community. Many of the ideas, innovations and plans to transform healthcare were in process before the pandemic hit. But it’s clear that COVID-19 has created unprecedented pressure and forced flexibility on the NHS and social care. And this has accelerated, catalysed and added urgency for connected healthcare solutions. Right now, it’s a case of: if not now, when? The report, based on a poll of 2,000 people by Opinium, highlights the exponential demands on people, processes and technologies. One example is the impact on the NHS 111 helpline. Vodafone doubled the service’s calling capacity to 2,400 calls simultaneously and we helped NHS Digital set up an online symptom checker. At its peak, 818,000 people accessed this service in a single day.

More findings from the report include …

Confidently connected

Many people are now much more comfortable with video calling than they were back in 2019. The report highlights this new normal – the willingness and confidence of patients and practitioners to replace face-to-face appointments with remote consultations. Safety, convenience and efficiency are clear drivers for this behaviour change. However, it’s not all good news. A British Medical Association (BMA) survey of general practitioners (GPs) in June 2020 found nearly 50% had limited ability to consult remotely due to internet speed or bandwidth, hardware and software, and IT infrastructure.

Urgent need for investment

When it comes to technology, the genie’s out of the bottle. Think of the smartphone and its touchscreen technology – soon enough, the more we got used to it, the more we just expected it. Using digital health services with ease, speed and convenience is no different. So, when the technology doesn’t work the way we want, it can be frustrating. This ‘tech adoption curve’ is the backdrop to the finding that an overwhelming majority of people support greater investments in technologies like 5G and IoT. There's wide public backing for ensuring that the 40 new hospitals which the Government has announced are fully equipped for the future. 71% of respondents said the latest digital technology including 5G is very or quite important.

Looking to the future

Connected healthcare goes way beyond the walls of hospitals. It has the potential to completely transform the way people work – and how patients experience and think about healthcare. Indeed, viewing primary, secondary and social care as one integrated whole is at the core of connected health innovations and at the heart of long-term Government policy. 'Better health, connected health’ highlights the many use cases, possibilities, and opportunities. Some of these are already in trials and pilot projects, including 5G-connected ambulances, drones, assisted surgery or telesurgery, remote medical training, asset tracking and smart buildings. Plus, there’s a raft of social and technological prescribing – for example, helping people self-manage long-term health conditions and tackling loneliness with connected living in smart homes.

As the Report concludes,

“It is clear that the foundations are in place for a technological step-change in the NHS.”