We started 2022 with the new COVID variant spreading across the country, putting pressure on frontline workers and hospitals once again. This is a trend that we can only expect to see grow in the upcoming months as the NHS continues to struggle to get back to full working capacity. In the future, routine treatments and procedures will still suffer delays, not just because of the pandemic, but also because of the growing population which is estimated to grow 3.2% to 69.2 million in the decade to 2030, up from 67.1 million of two years ago.
We have also seen how COVID has made face-to-face doctor’s appointments difficult to book, leading people to turn to virtual doctors instead, with the possibility of illnesses or symptoms being missed or delays in treatments. Reports show that last year almost two-thirds of appointments were face to face, compared to a rate of around 80% pre-pandemic and a McKinsey report reveals that telehealth has increased 38x compared to before the pandemic.
This is a debate that has been picking up pace, particularly over the last few months. On one hand, GPs want to protect patients, avoid the spread of the virus, and be able to allocate time to provide the COVID boosters and flu jabs that are needed. On the other hand, the government is pushing doctors to increase the number of in-person appointments with the incentive of receiving £250m extra funding if they do so.
So, is there an opportunity, now more than ever, for innovation to play a role in helping not just doctors and nurses but everyone to have better control of their health?
Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) thinks so: according to its 2021 Future of Healthcare Report, 80% of health systems said they plan to increase their investment levels in digital health over the next five years. And we think so too – here are the top three areas we think will get most attention this year:
We expect to see an increased interest in virtual health platforms in 2022, where patients will gain more choice about where and how they receive their healthcare. In the US, telemedicine demand is expected to grow by around 38% over the next five years. This trend is also being seen in the UK, with an expected growth of 14.3%. With software having become more readily available and ‘normal’ during the pandemic, it is unlikely to slow down.
Patient interest in virtual health platforms will see health professionals able to offer more efficient follow ups, with more patient touchpoints and the ability to offer more personalised care. On top of this, remote forms of monitoring have started to become increasingly available, which can be carried out easily at home, and without long wait times
Equally, health at home is an area we expect to see grow in 2022 as proven by our recent results: in the past year, supply of our pulse oximeters have increased by 233% while devices for respiratory therapy have gone up by 420%. Being able to monitor your own vital signs at home and to use the data to support virtual consultations will be invaluable. It also follows a current trend, where we have seen the rise of decentralised healthcare leading to services such as monitoring of vital signs moved closer to the end user.
Alongside this, the UK’s ageing population is nearly at 12 million people aged 65 and over, with an additional 8.6 million people estimated in 50 years. Many people will wish to receive care at home rather than enter care homes. So, health at home will continue to be important for many.
Wearable technology will also become more readily available to make continuous monitoring easy and accessible. Deloitte Global predicts that this year 320 million consumer health and wellness wearable devices will be distributed, going up to 440 million units by 2024 as new products enter the market and more health users get used to using them.
Having the ability to upload data to health-hubs will be immensely helpful for tracking and updating any chosen care giver. With a heightened understanding of how paramount monitoring our health is, as a society, it will become part of everyday life to track our health and the use of home testing and wearable tech delivers this.
If 2020 forced many GPs and health providers to go digital and 2021 saw a continuation of this, 2022 will be the year that will see a wider adoption of this type of technology – with all parts of society able to benefit from it.