• Nick Prentice, Manager |
4 min read

Utilising digital health tools to fight a winter healthcare surge

As winter approaches, health and social care systems brace for a surge in demand. Cold weather often exacerbates chronic conditions, such as respiratory illnesses and cardiovascular diseases, leading to increased demand in healthcare services. However, in recent years, digital health tools have emerged as powerful allies in the battle to reduce hospital admissions during the winter season.

Here are a couple of examples of where digital health technologies are transforming healthcare by enhancing prevention strategies and providing timely interventions

1. Remote patient monitoring

One of the most significant advancements in healthcare is the advent of remote patient monitoring (RPM) systems. The use of wearable devices, often coupled with mobile apps, enables patients to track their vital signs and health data from the comfort of their homes. During winter, RPM can play a vital role in identifying early warning signs of health deterioration, allowing healthcare providers to intervene proactively.

For example, patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can use wearable devices to monitor their oxygen levels and lung function. If any alarming changes occur, the data can be transmitted to their healthcare providers in real-time, enabling immediate adjustments to treatment plans and avoiding potential lengthy hospital admissions where other infections could occur.

RPM systems could be commissioned in both primary and secondary care outpatient settings, depending on how the local clinical pathway is commissioned to enhance the care package offered.

2. Virtual consultations outside the clinical walls

Virtual consultations have continued to stay popular for many patients and staff, and for a good reason. It provides patients with access to healthcare professionals without the need for in-person visits, which can be challenging during harsh winter weather conditions. Virtual consultations not only save time, but also reduce the risk of exposure to contagious illnesses.

For patients with minor ailments or routine check-ups, virtual consultations offer a convenient option to receive medical advice and prescriptions. This not only eases the burden on hospitals, but also decreases the chances of winter-related infections spreading in healthcare facilities.

These systems don’t have to be super fancy; it could be a phone call or a video call, but with digital advancements, the system could aid clinical teams in assessing a patients’ vital signs and transcribing the consultation into a patients’ record in both primary and secondary care settings.

3. Medication adherence apps

During winter, managing chronic conditions and adhering to medication regimens becomes even more critical. Digital health tools, such as medication adherence apps, send reminders and provide educational content to patients, ensuring they stay on track with their prescribed treatments.

Improved medication adherence leads to better disease management, reducing the likelihood of disease exacerbation and hospitalisation. These apps could also enable healthcare providers to monitor patient compliance and offer timely interventions when necessary.

4. Digital front door services

These innovative portals can serve as the primary entry point for patients into a care service, offering a seamless and patient-centric experience. Through digital front doors, individuals can be navigated effectively to the right services to receive advice and guidance, request appointments, access their medical records, and even obtain personalised health information. These portals not only enhance patient convenience, but also contribute to more efficient healthcare delivery by reducing administrative burdens and streamlining communication between patients and healthcare providers.

How can the right conditions be created to enable these examples to thrive in health and social care environment?

To ensure organisations are ready to adopt these digital health solutions, there are some key ingredients for digital leaders and service managers to consider, ensuring a positive workforce and patient experience and return on investment.

  1. Work with clinical leaders to identify the strategic points where digital solutions can enable your winter plan and prevention strategies
  2. Work with financial business partners to create a strong business case that can clearly track the return on investment and patient outcomes
  3. Work with the commissioners of the care in your area to identify contractual changes needed to fund the care pathway
  4. Work with your IT system providers to ensure the digital technology can integrate safely to your current systems
  5. Work with your workforce teams to identify the changes to both clinical and non-clinical roles including the training needs of the teams operating the digital technologies
  6. Adapt your clinical environments to operate in a hybrid environment

What next?

Digital health tools have continued to revolutionise healthcare by supporting the clinical demand during the challenging winter season. Through remote patient monitoring, virtual consultations, medication adherence apps, and digital access to healthcare services, these technologies empower patients to take control of their health while providing healthcare professionals with the data and tools they need for early intervention.

As we move forward, the integration of digital health tools into routine healthcare practices promises to not only reduce the burden on hospitals during winter, but also to improve overall patient outcomes and quality of care. Winter may bring its challenges, but with the right digital health solutions, providers are better equipped than ever to navigate the season with a focus on prevention and well-being.