As the world continues to evolve, so does healthcare. In the last decade, there have been massive developments in digital and remote healthcare.
Digital and virtual healthcare has emerged as a game-changer, especially for those with long-term conditions like hypertension or diabetes (otherwise known as chronic conditions).
When we talk about digital or virtual healthcare, we’re referring to the use of technology to deliver healthcare services remotely. Through video calls, phone consultations and online platforms, digital healthcare can transform how people with long-term conditions access and receive medical care, revolutionising the healthcare landscape.
Technology enables healthcare to be delivered outside the four walls of a doctors surgery.
Digital healthcare is continuing to grow, and it’s not only impacting how we deliver healthcare but creating opportunities for us to begin tackling prevention, NHS pressures and the overall national healthcare spending.
The relationship between long-term care and general practice
According to the most recent data, over 26 million people in England have a long-term condition and over 10 million live with two or more.
Traditional delivery models can present challenges for people with long-term conditions, like limited access to providers, long waiting times, and difficulties with transport, especially for those living in rural or deprived areas.
People have always relied on GP practices and their staff as the primary source of healthcare. However, over the past 10 years, the healthcare system has been under increasing pressure. The consistent underfunding of the NHS has created workforce shortages and increasingly difficult working conditions.
This, coupled with the increasing population with more complex cases and multi-morbidity, has resulted in decreasing capacity and many general practice staff finding it difficult to cope.
Long-term conditions are the biggest burden on the NHS, accounting for over half of all GP appointments, 65% of out-patient visits and around 70% of inpatient beds. We know that only some of these face-to-face appointments are necessary, and most could occur in a digital setting.
We believe digital healthcare, implemented properly and working with practices, can bridge the gap between primary care and their patients and begin moving towards a more proactive, preventative healthcare service.
Moving closer to preventative care
Digital technology gives patients more tools to manage their condition and prevent adverse long-term outcomes. Even though using digital technology to manage long-term conditions is in its infancy, it has proven successful.
In the United States, the top 5% of the sickest people consume around 50% of healthcare spending. Even though improving efficiency and quality no doubt has had positive effects in terms of patient experience, it hasn’t helped reduce the overall spending across the US which as of 2020 stood at $3.5 trillion.
Kaiser Permanente (KP) developed a new model that treated people with multi-morbidity but whose conditions were relatively easy to manage. Their approach used a mix of their own technology mixed with a team of medical staff to expand the support of primary care doctors so they can focus their time on the chronic needs of patients.
They found that this digital model for managing long-term conditions did not only significantly reduce cost but improved the quality of care patients received.
KP’s model for long-term condition management is very similar to our own model which allows GP practices to focus on more acute care while we manage the long-term condition burden in their patient list through a proactive virtual first approach.
At Suvera we combine our own technology which allows patients to send healthcare data, like blood pressure, whenever necessary with our in-house care team. With access to our patient’s most recent data, our care team, which is predominantly made up of pharmacists, GPs and healthcare assistants, can provide care that’s more proactive and personalised.
By allowing us to support the stretched practices with delivering routine care for those with manageable long-term conditions, we support patients to control their condition and reduce the likelihood of their condition causing any adverse conditions.
Ways technology can help track and treat patients with long-term conditions
While there are a lot of digital developments, a few key developments or areas of innovation have become key for creating a pathway that can successfully tackle the increasing cases of multi-morbidity.
Predicting and identifying gaps in patient care
Predictive analytics and tools can dramatically improve operational processes across an array of different industries, including healthcare.
Applying predictive analytics to patient medical records, guidelines, and other data could identify which patients are more likely to develop adverse long-term outcomes. This can be as simple as applying basic demographic information to see who could be overdue for an annual review.
This allows healthcare professionals and resources to intervene more effectively, delivering high-impact and cost-effective care. Enabling healthcare providers to prioritise patient outreach results in more effective care and reduces the pressure across services.
There's been a massive boom in wearable health technology. Fitbits, Apple watches, and smartphone apps can now all help people monitor their health.
People can now reliably monitor their diet, activity, heartbeat, sleep cycles, menstruation cycles, and much more. By using simple smartphone apps and other internet-connected devices, people with long-term conditions can now collect their vitals and other relevant information and have it consistently at their fingertips.
This can help general practice in a few key ways:
- The ability to see, record and immediately see change can be really motivating for some patients. This process can help increase the likelihood of positive behaviour change and, with the proper support, can help foster more significant lifestyle changes like losing weight or reducing alcohol intake.
- Some companies, like Apple, allow healthcare providers access to the information they collect. Seeing this data can improve long-term condition management by giving healthcare professionals enough insight in advance so we can focus on more personalised care.
Virtual healthcare clinics
In the UK, Suvera is at the forefront of designing a care model that’s able to scale to effectively support patients with complex care needs. Today, Suvera's virtual clinic allows care that once happened only in person to be done online or over the phone.
The ability to provide services remotely can dramatically expand access to quality medical care for those with long-term conditions. We make it possible for patients to have appointments, get prescriptions and have their annual reviews remotely.
Our virtual clinic creates an environment where those with long-term conditions can experience a service that has significantly less friction, which often disproportionately affects those who have to manage a condition over their lifetime.
We’re uniquely positioned to care that’s successful in helping people control their conditions and significantly improve the outcomes for our partnered practices.
Our hypertension service is a prime example of what our virtual clinic can achieve. In 2022/23, we saw a drastic improvement with 99% of our practices achieve the maximum target threshold for chronic condition indicators. We also reduced patients blood pressure by on average of at least 10-15 mmHg and had, on average, a 70% engagement rate across of each practice’s patient list, with with the average patient being 64.
So where do we go from here?
As the number of people with multiple long-term conditions increases as our population ages, the pressures on the NHS increases. In 'The Five Year Forward View', NHS England made it abundantly clear that their focus on 'long term conditions are now a central task of the NHS.'
We must take a proactive approach to innovate and find solutions. Implementing digital healthcare on scale is one of these solutions and a crucial step in providing care for those with long-term conditions.
The time has come for decision-makers to prioritise developing and implementing virtual care pathways. By embracing this technology, we can significantly enhance the quality of life for individuals by ensuring they receive the best possible care.
Our vision is that healthcare worldwide will prevent more than it treats, and we believe we can make this change happen.