The NHS turned 70. During that time, there have been huge scientific breakthroughs including the discovery of DNA structure, huge advances in transplant surgical techniques and the development of IVF.
This blog includes an overview of just some of the ways technology can be utilised in the healthcare sector.
The Digital Health Market
Technology and medical innovation are often inextricably linked, with one influencing and advancing the other. This relationship is acknowledged by the NHS anniversary celebrations, which specifically include “innovation and digital” as its spotlight priority for July.
Healthcare systems are currently faced with huge challenges, such as the ageing global population, rising levels of obesity and the effects of air pollution. In the face of increased financial pressure, the rapid developments in digital technology present an array of attractive solutions.
This has arguably created the perfect environment for the digital health market to thrive. It is estimated that the market size will exceed $379 billion by 2024.Read more The UK currently exports approximately £2 billion worth of health technology to the EU each year.
There’s an app for that: mHealth
One growing market is the use of mobile health or “mHealth” apps. MHealth apps often provide educational and preventative tools aimed at improving overall health – for example there are various apps to help individuals stop smoking, drink less and exercise more.
Additionally, apps can help monitor and measure health and can be used to help remotely manage chronic conditions such as diabetes.
The NHS now provides a list of approved mHealth apps. These range from the Change4Life food scanner which details nutritional values using barcodes, to digital cognitive behavioural therapy apps such as Sleepstation.
Internet of Things
The IoT also presents a range of possibilities for the healthcare sector.
Last year, the FDA in United States approved the first “smart pill”. This pill is fitted with sensors which then communicate information to a patch and the information is then sent to a mobile app. The smart pill, Abilify MyCite, is aimed to help track and record the ingestion of medication for those with mental illnesses which such as schizophrenia.
Another example is the use of “smart sockets”. These plug sockets are fitted with sensors to monitor movement, temperature and power usage. The sockets gather and analyse data and then send this information to a mobile app.
One clear use is to assist elderly individuals who are living at home alone. The system learns the daily patterns of behaviour of the individual. Any abnormal deviations (for example if no socket is used all day) then alert the app which notifies a family member or carer.
The use of smart sockets could be used in the public sector to minimise length of hospital stays and call-outs (and therefore cost) while still being able to passively monitor vulnerable individuals.
Big Data and Disease
Finally, developments in mobile technology and increased use of mHealth apps can also be combined with Big Data analytics to address global health challenges. For example, data can be collected efficiently and cheaply from mobile devices and used to inform health organisations of locations and levels of diseases such as malaria.
Watch this Space (Agency)
There are numerous ways in which recent technological advances can be used to improve efficiency within the healthcare sector. Investors – and the NHS – are taking note.
For example, last month the UK Space Agency teamed up with the NHS and pledged to provide up to £4 million to help develop tech solutions to healthcare challenges. Read more
With increasing investment activity and the growing appetite for efficiency in the public sector, we are likely to see even more tech health innovations in future.
Pharmaceutical companies, in particular, have increasingly been active in facilitating digital health innovation. For example, Pfizer is offering a £50,000 grant to encourage health tech start-ups.