NHS wait times have hit a new – and disappointing – high, with 24,000 patients waiting for two years for their treatment. GP appointments are also difficult to secure, with in-person appointments now taking up much more time than the typical pre-pandemic 10 min slots as equipment and furniture need to be sanitised and doctors need to wear new PPE kits after each individual appointment.
With so many variables impacting these wait times, anything we can do to reduce the pressure on the NHS will make a difference. But what is the role of private health companies in helping this initiative?
The good news is that medical expertise is not always necessary when it comes to checking blood sugar, temperature, and other vital signs. Rather than needing to go to a GP to monitor vital signs, easy-to-use devices are empowering people to manage their own health at home.
Our recent survey found that 61% of people prefer to manage health at home and 76% believe home health monitoring to be more important since the pandemic. However, only 1 in 4 people reported that they had been recommended the use of home medical devices by their GP.
The role of remote monitoring and health tech
A recent NHS-backed study showed that a majority of patients were happy to see their GP remotely. Although there are situations where an in-person examination must be done, for example when the information needed can only be collected in-person with a hands-on examination, there are other situations where a remote consultation can be done instead.
Remote monitoring and health technology can play a critical role when it comes to easing the strain on the NHS and reducing wait times for those that need urgent and professional medical attention.
Remote monitoring – which in this context refers to gathering vital signs data such as blood pressure, blood sugar, body temperature, heart rate or oxygen saturation directly by the patient – became even more important during the pandemic when there was limited access to healthcare professionals.
However, this practice has more to it, and it should be seen as a solution with long term benefits. England currently counts around 5.5 million adults with high blood pressure, and hypertension is the third biggest risk factor in the country for premature death. In light of this, being able to carry out a blood pressure checks – regularly rather than just once a year – and in the comfort of your home rather in a more stressful medical environment, can really make a difference in picking up potential issues before they lead anything serious.
It is important to note here that medical expertise is not necessary when it comes to checking blood pressure, and there are a variety of machines available that are both reliable and affordable. According to a government report, high blood pressure costs the NHS over £2 bn considering the disease it leads to but without accounting for costs in time and money to the GP in managing the blood pressure alone. If more people can check their blood pressure at home, more cases of hypertension can be picked up before they lead to problems.
We’ve also seen an increase in the use of pulse oximeters in the last two years. As many of us have learned, one of the complications of COVID-19 is breathing difficulties.
Being able to measure oxygen levels in your blood can help catch signs of a lung infection – whether linked to COVID or not – early on. In many cases, using a pulse oximeter can help a patient become aware of the need to get medical help sooner than if they were relying on just monitoring symptoms alone.
It is clear that remote monitoring can be a long-term solution in helping to alleviate the pressure on the NHS. It allows doctors to focus on those patients who need an in-person examination while checks on vital sign are measured, monitored, and reported regularly remotely, and patients are called in only when necessary. It reduces the need for multiple nurse appointments as readings can be done at home with the added benefit of being more accurate than if done in a clinic because of the “white coat” effect.
But more than this, taking an active role in monitoring your health can be empowering. In the same way you can use this to spot any early signs of something wrong, equally you can apply to see any positive lifestyle changes which can certainly be rewarding to see.
James Grover, Director at Kinetik Wellbeing.