The rise of telemedicine must pave the way for a remote testing revolution

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven the case for telemedicine, but if we are to see a proactive healthcare revolution then we must put remote testing firmly in the picture

Over recent months, we have seen a dramatic shift in how we will view healthcare for generations to come. 

At the heart of this is the move towards remote models of health and healthcare monitoring. In the worst of the pandemic here in the UK, the pressing need to protect both healthcare providers and at-risk patients saw a dramatic rise in the use of telemedicine.

Data from the Royal College of General Practitioners shows that 71% of routine consultations were remote in the four weeks leading up to April 12th, compared to 25% in the same period last year. 

Throughout the most critical days of the pandemic, this model has ensured vulnerable people feel safe, and reduced footfall in GP surgeries and hospitals.  

However virtual consultations, through video and phone, are only one part of the picture. Many consultations require testing as part of the follow up, to gain insights into their health and yet we’re seeing huge backlogs around access to blood testing.

The great opportunity is for an extension of telemedicine to include remote monitoring through at-home testing at scale, and as we move towards remote models of care, we must ensure that this critical element doesn’t get left out in the cold. 

So how does this work? Through services like our own, people can have blood tests delivered through their letterbox at home. Then if they are able, they can take a sample via a finger prick blood test, and post it back to the associated lab. Where this isn’t possible, nurses and health professionals can attend to people in their own homes to take samples. 

The labs we use are the same as those used by the NHS for all blood testing, which is rarely done on site.  The results of these tests can then be presented to the patient through an online dashboard, or sent to a clinician or GP to discuss directly with a patient over the phone. This increases patient engagement, reduces inconvenience for the patient and increases the likelihood of adherence. 

At Thriva, we are already working with hospitals and healthcare providers including the Royal Brompton Hospital and Kings College Hospital. To take these specific examples, our work with Royal Brompton has, over a number of years, meant that high-risk cystic fibrosis patients don’t have to enter a hospital environment where they are putting themselves at risk.

To take this further, let’s look at another example. There are 3.9m people living with diabetes in the UK – roughly they each need a blood test every three months. You can add to that the millions of people who are on powerful drug treatments and require blood tests to monitor their liver function, or those who require regular check ups whilst they’re on cancer treatments. 

In short, at-home testing, if done right, is actually what patients are looking for in many situations. 

But more than this, through effective at-home blood testing, we will start to see real impact on health outcomes, with the additional benefits of lower costs and reduced pressure on GP surgeries and hospitals. 

Of course, it won’t be suitable for everyone – some populations will struggle to take a test themselves, and the long-held criticism of remote care is that it has the potential to leave the most vulnerable patients behind. 

We need to recognise these limitations and seek to work closely with those who are responsible for the overall care to ensure that it meets the needs of all patients. But the opportunity far outweighs the hurdles.

If continued, this urgent shift (which this year we saw happen in days and weeks rather than months) has the potential to not only prioritise patient safety, but improve overall wellbeing and experience, with a customer-centric approach which enables people to take a proactive role in their own health. 

This evolution towards remote testing could be transformative for the patient experience, accelerating a proactive, person-centric model vital to an effective and successful healthcare system of the future. In short, it has the potential to unlock a proactive healthcare revolution.

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