This article was first published on The Journal of mHealth | Read Now

The way that healthcare organisations operate has been fundamentally reshaped over the past few months. Plans and ideas that have been pushed by healthcare providers for years suddenly received the green light by default, as a result of Covid-19. Video conferencing for outpatient services; telephone triage to determine the need for a GP appointment followed by tele- or video calls, workloads have transformed – as has the speed and means of access to services.

Furthermore, patient behaviour has seismically changed – with Emergency Departments in England reporting a 57% drop in attendance during April. Finances have been overhauled, following the government’s write off of £13 billion of historic debt to allow planning and investment in future service delivery.

There are huge challenges ahead – from managing delayed cancer treatments to catching up on elective programmes. But one point is absolutely clear: no one in healthcare wants to go back to the way things were before Covid-19.

As Deb Sutton and Daniel Wadsworth, TeleTracking insist, this is a once in a generation opportunity to transform healthcare. We need to grasp it now.

Conflicting Priorities

Six months ago, the UK’s NHS was mired in debt, wrestling with conflicting priorities and inching at a painfully slow pace towards digitally enabled service delivery.  At every step, delay and ingrained bureaucracy challenged and constrained essential change. In many cases, inspired individuals on the front line were too dispirited to even consider suggesting opportunities for improvement. There was no logical way to balance budgets and financial recovery with the conflicting demands of A&E waiting times, surgical waiting lists, cancer targets, patient complaints, staff morale, staff retention, and a large nursing deficit. And underlying everything, the constant stress created by a lack of beds. This was business as usual six months ago.

Life throughout the NHS, and healthcare around the world, has changed fundamentally since then – and there is now an opportunity to retain and sustain better ways of working. The fact is that there were pockets of excellence – for example, organisations that had embraced real-time bed management and had released 190+ additional nursing hours a week back to care. But each individual initiative, each attempt to explore improvements was a massive, uphill battle.

Covid-19 – or specifically lockdown – forced the UK, and the rest of the world, to completely reconsider every aspect of healthcare delivery, from A&E to maternity wards, GP surgeries to surgery and outpatients.  With everyone but key workers, most notably NHS Heroes, compelled to stay at home, every NHS institution simultaneously experienced the level of immediate change usually associated with a major incident within just one or two hospitals.

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