Improving outcomes for older patients with technology

Activity graph for health care and digital wearable technology

Technology will play an increasingly important role in improving outcomes of care and there are already solutions and devices available which offer multiple benefits for the healthcare service. Earlier this year, the NHS Confederation’s Commission on Improving Urgent Care for Older People released a report stating that older people are being “let down” by the NHS. 

Rather than being given fast access to quality care when they first fall ill, older people are all too often forced to go to A&E. The report outlined the scale of this problem – over-65s now account for 3.7 million A&E visits each year, equating to about one in six of the total. This means that older patients ultimately face longer stays and loss of independence once they are in hospital. The report also revealed that most hospital beds are occupied by people over the age of 65 and, once admitted, over-85s stay in hospital for 11 days on average – twice as long as the average for all ages.

With A&E waiting times getting worse, the NHS needs to ensure vulnerable patients get the quickest care possible. Creating a system that provides older patients with the prompt and efficient care they need and deserve will take many years of hard work and radical change in management and clinical care. But by acting quickly, we can begin to tackle the issue before solvable problems become insurmountable.

Technology will play an increasingly important role in facilitating the provision of care and there are already solutions and devices available which offer multiple benefits for the healthcare service, which improve patient care. 

For example, Video-as-a-Service (VaaS) is a hosted solution which utilises high definition videoconferencing and sharp audio connections to eliminate the distance between patients and clinicians. This telemedicine solution enables patients to be remotely assessed, diagnosed and receive treatment before their problem becomes severe and potentially life threatening, necessitating distressing and costly hospital admission.

  VaaS is already being used to help older patients in nursing homes across Lancashire and South Cumbria. It allows residents with dysphagia to be assessed by a qualified speech and language therapist from their care home, rather than having to travel, wait for a hospital appointment or book a home visit. This is enabling very limited resources to be spread across a large geographical area without the need for travel. In turn, this also significantly reduces patient distress levels and aids the recovery process.

 It isn’t just VaaS technology that can improve access to care or prevent older people from lengthy stays in hospital. Wearable technology is becoming increasingly popular, with many companies adapting these devices specifically for use in healthcare. A great example of how these can help to look after older people is wearable sensors – these can be used to monitor a range of things from heart rate to balance and used to alert doctors, families or caregivers when an older person falls, is feeling unwell or needs emergency assistance. Sensors can also be fitted to household objects to monitor someone’s daily routine and wearable tech can provide reminders to take medication on a regular basis – all of which help older people live an independent, healthier and safer life.

 Technology is already providing accessible care, monitoring health conditions and offering potentially life-saving rapid response services. This is enabling patients to be treated more quickly, reducing the severity of many conditions and removing the need for long-term care in many cases. Secondary benefits of this include massive time and cost savings for the healthcare service and a reduction in bed blocking.

 Health and care spending on over-75s is already 13 times higher than that on younger people. With over five thousand registered nursing homes in the UK, and an anticipated exponential increase in the older population in the future, it is inevitable that delivery of healthcare will require a different approach. Telemedicine is a fast growing area of innovation in healthcare, and if technology is embraced and adapted specifically to treat those who make up the vast majority of the NHS patient population, we will be able to improve delivery models and patient outcomes to benefit all parties.

Veronica Southern, clinical consultant at Imerja, a specialist provider of IT infrastructure, IT security and business communications services, with particular expertise in the public sector. 

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