Virtually cured: what does the future hold for healthcare?

Three Business Blog Team
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On: 5 Dec 2019
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Connected Health

Richard Corbridge is Director of Innovation at Boots UK & Ireland, a newly created leadership role within the group’s Transformation Team. Between 2014 and 2017, he spent three years in Ireland as Chief Information Officer at the HSE, and CEO of eHealth Ireland, where he made a significant contribution to the health service’s reform agenda. Here, he looks at technologies influencing the next generation of healthcare and considers the role of the pharmacy in this.

Communication is at the heart of every interaction in healthcare: think of the patient describing their symptoms to a listening GP, or the doctor explaining a treatment to help cure an illness or manage an ongoing condition. Technology, at its heart, is also about communication, so it makes absolute sense to match both in order to provide faster access to essential services and deliver improved quality of care.

Communication technology will be a major consideration for the future of healthcare. The Irish population is ageing, like it is across much of the western world, while thanks to medical advances, people are now living longer. Current forecasts are that a child born in 2019 has a good chance of living past the age of 135.

The longer people live, and the older they get, the more they will need to interact with and rely on the healthcare system. This is where there is an opportunity to use technology to alleviate pressure on that system by enabling people to take greater ownership of their wellbeing. While the pressure on the emergency system gets a lot of attention, much of this focuses on the ‘front door’. However A&E crowding is just as often due to ‘back door’ constraints, when people are unable to leave hospitals or care facilities after an inpatient stay. We see an opportunity for pharmacies to become more closely integrated to ease this pressure on the system.

Innovating for the “everything customer”.

My role at Boots is to look at ways in which we can bring innovation in healthcare to the market. There is a trend that Gartner calls the “everything customer”; someone who is naturally comfortable with digital technology, and who expects effortless experiences. I believe this applies as much to healthcare as any service involving digital technology.

Video delivers a virtual GP consultation.

The first area we see making a big impact is video in the form of virtual GP consultations. From April 2020, every person will have access to virtual online consultations through the NHS working together with a network of care providers. Boots has already begun providing this service in the UK, in partnership with LIVI. We provide video facilities in a number of our stores and arranging a virtual GP visit there is almost instant. In less than 30 minutes, a person can have had a consultation with a virtual GP who has the capability to give a prescription which is dispensed in the pharmacy. It seems clear already that this service meets the needs of the “everything customer” who values convenience.

The next phase of this will involve integrating the Internet of Things to enrich the video consultation experience. Boots is working with a partner in the Nordics, a Swedish startup called Kry, that augments the video GP service by adding IoT sensors that can check patients by taking their temperature or checking their heart rate. This extra layer of technology enables highly detailed diagnoses. 

The next level of IoT will involve using sensors to record a person’s activity and measurements, to be able to build a virtual ‘digital twin’ that can analyse the data and identify early signs of illness or a deteriorating condition. This will soon be available in Ireland. 

There’s an app for that.

Another way to take the pressure off the healthcare system is by enabling people to take more ownership of their own health and wellbeing. With this in mind, At Boots, we built what we think of as a healthcare ‘NCT’: this is a wellness test that customers can take online in around six minutes. By connecting this to their Boots purchasing record, we can deliver tailored lists of products and services for their needs to their Boots app. For example, if someone would like to exercise more, the offers might include healthier eating suggestions. Or, to support them in their goals, we include incentives on their Boots Advantage Club reward scheme, so if they go out for a 5k jog, for example, they will receive extra rewards. We’ll be launching this in early January.

For the future of healthcare, we believe the pharmacy will play a critical role. The benefit for consumers is that payment for a consultation would be more affordable than a face-to-face appointment. The technical infrastructure is in place to enable such a service. 

Convenience in healthcare delivery.

Looking further ahead, it’s clear that one of the next big challenges in healthcare will be getting to a single source of patient data that clinicians and medical practitioners can access as needed. I’m encouraged by the work of Sir Tim Berners-Lee whose digital identity project Solid could go a long way towards solving the problem of data ownership while tackling the issue of privacy – which is especially acute where personal health information is concerned.

Above all, I’m excited for the next generation of healthcare, and for where we can take advantage of technology to solve health challenges.

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