Our ageing and growing population is placing our statutory services under increasing pressure, creating an urgent need to address the fragmented health and social care system in order to increase efficiency and ensure people accessing services are getting the best quality of care.
Health, social care, and community services are often treated as silos. However, when it comes to finances they are intertwined, with changes to social care funding having significant repercussions for healthcare and vice versa. Take the example of Mr Rogers, an independent 90-year-old, living at home with no additional support. He has been experiencing dizzy spells, and as a result has had a couple of minor falls. They have not warranted an emergency trip to hospital, but the cause needs to be investigated.
Whilst he is reluctant to ‘make a fuss’, he visits his GP who refers him to hospital for further tests. After a week’s stay, Mr Rogers is deemed clinically fit to leave. However, the hospital has a duty to ensure that he has the necessary additional support at home, which could take weeks to arrange. This leaves Mr Rogers stuck in a bed that could be used by a critically-ill patient.
Mr Rogers’ case is not a rare occurrence. In fact, bed-blocking is a national crisis that has resulted in more than 2,500 hospital beds a day being taken up by patients who are considered ‘fit to leave’. If we are to avoid this waste of resources it is vital we take a more holistic view of health and social care, using technology as an enabler for integration.
Being part of the preventative agenda
The government continues to put more money into acute healthcare services because that is what has always been done. Arguably, the investment has resulted in fantastic results in acute medicine, with some of the best technological advancements in our healthcare system. However, if appropriate funding is not available across the entire healthcare system (i.e. social care and housing being essential components) we will continue to place the NHS under unnecessary pressure.
Every person is living on a spectrum of health and care needs:
The overall objective of healthcare services is to keep people at the left side of the spectrum for as long as possible. However, without any intervention, the aging population will accelerate to the right-hand side. Viewing health and social care as one entity enables all providers to see a person as a whole, with touchpoints in multiple services. To bring all these different elements together will require planning and innovation, and one way to connect these in a meaningful way is through technology.
Technology has the potential to radically change our approach to health and social care, enabling more care to be delivered in the community by managing risks in the home and on the move. It can empower people to manage their own health and help clinicians to manage caseloads and avoid more complex interventions by identifying exacerbations at an early stage. It can even help to reduce loneliness and improve emotional wellbeing.
Connected healthcare offers the opportunity to not only reduce pressure on both health and social care, but also improve quality of life for older and vulnerable people. In the case of Mr Rogers, having a package of care at home including either telehealth or telecare could facilitate early discharge, even prevent admission entirely. The technology already exists, what is required is the will and the vision to change our approach, using technology to support, not replace, the vital human touch, and help us to do things better.