Technology is revolutionising healthcare across the board but the biggest visible changes are taking place at the point of provision. Patients are now in more control of their treatment regimes than ever before and the relationships they have with their doctors are also evolving.
This patient-centric change is being supported by a growth in wireless connectivity; something backed up by forecasts from the Wi-Fi Alliance, which states that machine-to-machine connections in the health consumer market are forecast to grow by more than eight times (54 per cent CAGR) between 2014 to 2019.
This fact hasn’t escaped the UK Government, which has pledged £1bn fund to enable free public WiFi in every NHS building by 2020. And so, with the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), the need for strong, secure WiFi networks in medical settings is more crucial than ever, both for the doctors and patients who are utilising wearable devices, tablets and phones.
WiFi has a huge potential to expand the sphere of healthcare technology. This is highlighted in a Forrester Consulting survey, which reported that 70 per cent of respondents cited WiFi as the most important technology for supporting the growth of healthcare IoT implementations such as smart wearable devices.
These personalised applications can lower the risk of infection through the need for less invasive checks, increase patient comfort through smaller devices and improve monitoring capabilities beyond the hospital, which can lead to improved recovery times. For example, the continuous measurement of blood glucose levels could put a stop to the largely avoidable hypoglycaemic episodes that one fifth of diabetics suffer during hospital stays.
As well as enhancing health management, access to free public WiFi can help improve patients’ wellbeing. With the average hospital stay in the UK and US lasting just over five days, patients can become bored and lonely. WiFi provides connections to social networks, allowing friends and family to stay in touch, as well as offering access to entertainment, again supporting faster recovery.
Furthermore, the use of location tools on mobile devices can help save time and lower stress as patients and visitors are quickly directed to their correct destinations.
From the point of clinicians, a properly configured network can reduce nonattendance for appointments as automated reminders can be routinely triggered and delivered. With wasted appointments currently costing the NHS more than £162m a year, this is something that cannot be overlooked.
A reduction in the administrative burden offers widespread dividends; the UK’s Department of Health estimates that paperwork and routine admin currently absorbs around 70 per cent of a junior doctor’s day. In addition, it notes that new working practices can improve patient safety, such as e-prescribing, which is known to reduce medication administration errors by half.
Many processes can be sped up or improved through an implementation of an IoT platform, using connected devices and the data they generate to better manage inventories, compliance, staff and security – something, according to the Forrester report, that over half of healthcare professionals and administrators are excited about.