Earlier this week at UWE Bristol we looked into the future – focusing on innovation in healthcare at a one-day conference organised by Health Education South West, the Royal Society of Medicine and Bristol Robotics Laboratory. In particular we considered the critical issue of how we keep pace with the ever increasing demand from our ageing population.
The good news is we are generally living longer! But that means the increased possibility of developing long term conditions or complex co-morbidity – and this costs money! It isn’t helped by our current focus on the ‘tip of the iceberg’ – treating those that are ill rather than keeping more people healthy and independent for longer so that they don’t, in effect, clog up our health care system.
So what is the answer?
Robotics, remote care and telemedicine certainly offer some interesting solutions that will help shape the future of healthcare.
At the conference we sped into the future and looked at surgical robots – exploring the world of haptics. Whilst a surgeon’s eyes, hands and touch work together to explore a surgical site and tissues, when using robotic surgical instruments you have no haptic feedback – you’ve lost the sense of touch. Researchers at UWE Bristol are looking to develop robots that can feed back to surgeons what they are feeling – e.g. resistance, size and texture of tissues.
Of course whilst surgical robots are fascinating the real advances that can reach significant numbers of patients are in telemedicine, telehealth and telecare. We must find solutions to the chronic problems we see in A&E. We need to ensure we are creating safe environments for more patients to self-manage at home. The costs of delivering the service – £0.013p to assess digitally, against £25 to get a GP and £500 to get an ambulance! The technology is not the issue – it is the selection of patients, clarity of case management and care pathways that are critical to success.
We need to better engage with what citizens are looking for and how they are prepared to participate in the changes required.
We have to learn quickly and integrate, adopt and spread best practice much faster than we have done in the past.
Our patients are often faster than the clinicians treating them. The power of global patient networks is, as yet, untapped. The influence that such networks can have is great, but we have to learn to use them more powerfully.
Demand for healthcare is increasing and budgets are reducing in real terms. We also have a diminishing workforce. In this context it is even more critical that we design our services and systems for the future – instead of focusing on solving the problems of the past or present.
We have to change, be less precious about how things are now and open our minds to adopting different practice and different care pathways. Doing more of the same harder and faster simply will not work!
I hope the work of UWE Bristol and the Academic Health Science Network will lift heads, challenge and create novel solutions, implement and spread what is best for our patients – and importantly, we have to stop the political ping-pong game we have with health.