Assistive technologies could radically change the way care is delivered in the future.
Delivering care remotely
Remote intensive care monitoring systems could enable hospitals to deliver intensive care using staff at a single remote location to observe patients across multiple intensive care units (ICUs). These staff would communicate with local ICU staff through dedicated 'hot phones' and video conferencing, with patient information provided by audio/video monitoring. Software with automatic alerts and links to other hospital systems, such as pathology, could provide physiological monitoring (1).
Use of internet-based interfaces to undertake remote consultations with clinicians and other care staff, to access personal care records and connect users with family members, may become commonplace. Such systems are already being developed in the United States, Singapore and Israel.
Home-based technologies that support individuals (and their carers) to manage their long-term conditions will be more widely used as the evidence of their impact increases and unit costs fall. There is the potential for millions of people to access and use such technologies in this way.
Taking health care mobile
Smart phones can be used as a platform for capturing real-time patient information and to live-stream patient data to a clinician, allowing them to interpret and respond to information remotely. As well as accessing pathology and radiology results, professionals are able to monitor a patient's vital signs either in real time or as data plotted over time.
Mobile phones also offer opportunities for patients to access personalised health support and encouragement, including diet plans, medication schedules, exercise regimens and push messages, with reminders, motivational messages and alerts when there is a clinical problem (2).
On a practical level, a move from small-scale technology pilots to wide-scale implementation will need to overcome several barriers:
- the evidence base on cost-effectiveness is relatively weak, deterring risk averse investors
- clinicians may not be convinced that the benefits outweigh the costs
- service users could prove reluctant to accept and use assistive technologies, if they feel they are used as a substitute for face-to-face contact
- politically, reducing hospital-based care in favour of remote care in the community is also likely to be challenging.