Supporting the NHS beyond COVID

By James McPherson, Chief Executive Officer, Voice Technologies

Posted on July 14, 2021

The upsurge in the use of new and existing tech in health and social care that has come about during the pandemic, such as virtual doctor – patient consultations when face-to-face appointments weren’t possible, has not only proven tech’s worth, it has shown how it can achieve game-changing efficiencies for the NHS.

While campaigning during the run-up to the Scottish Parliament elections on 05 May 2021, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon set out the SNP’s plans for the 'remobilisation' of NHS Scotland.

The party’s first manifesto pledge was a £500 million budget increase for the NHS (a real-terms increase of around 1 per cent per year to 2021 – similar to that envisaged by NHS England) but what really caught my eye was the pledge to reduce waiting times by increasing in-patient, day case and out-patient activity to 10 per cent above pre-coronavirus levels within a year, and to maintain that level for the rest of the five-year parliamentary term.

Which got me thinking, how can hospitals treat 10 per cent more patients as well as contending with the post-Covid-19 backlog?

Nicola Sturgeon said her party would set up an expanded network of 10 centres doing diagnostic work and elective surgery. This would include a renewed Edinburgh Eye Pavilion, as well as new treatment centres in Ayrshire and Cumbernauld. While work to establish the new centres is taking place, Ms Sturgeon said mobile operating theatre units would be deployed at a number of NHS sites.

So, it appears that the SNP expects expanding facilities to be a key factor in achieving its ambitious plan but these measures in themselves don’t fully explain how the 10 per cent jump in hospital care will be made and maintained.

Another key factor will be addressing under-resourcing. Admittedly there has been a 6 per cent increase in the NHS Scotland workforce since March 2020, taking the total NHS Scotland workforce to a record high of 152,000, but in May 2021, the number of Scots on waiting lists for a year or more for planned hospital treatment had almost doubled since February 2021 to 28,203 as the second wave of Covid-19 hit.

The NHS workforce is now being asked to tackle the backlog by, for instance, expanding the working week from 5 to 7 days in some hospital departments.

Though this is an effective tactic, without a 10 per cent increase in staffing levels, how can the Scottish Government’s ambitious target be met?

Technology is key for achieving pledged efficiencies for the NHS

Modern day solutions to improve the performance and efficiencies of the NHS in the UK cannot be considered without addressing the use of technology which can speed up everyday processes and improve the overall productivity of the NHS as an organisation, while reducing the workload for the already overworked staff – helping them improve their own mental and physical health so they can better serve others.

A tech solution that helps address the need for higher productivity across the NHS from hospitals to medical practices is already here in the form of speech recognition via cloud-based apps. Used by clinicians, practitioners and GPs to record outcomes, make notes and fill out forms, voice-first technology will certainly play an ever-increasing part in helping to cut down on onerous and repetitive admin tasks so that they can spend more time seeing patients.

And the increasing sophistication of speech recognition means there’s much more to come, with clinical understanding and advice being integrated into future workflows to further support clinical staff.

By adopting voice recognition technology, professionals across the NHS can save time on form-filling and note-taking because it’s four times faster to speak than to type*. With this enabling faster data input into documents that are securely stored in cloud, important information can then be shared more rapidly with the clinical community improving patient care by reducing the time communications take internally and externally.

Equipped with digital technology for implementing day to day tasks, medical professionals can work more efficiently. What’s more, using new digital dictation technology with advanced speech analysis that incorporates Artificial Intelligence (AI) for instance, will help clinicians who digitally dictate their diagnosis by offering them treatment suggestions based on similar medical cases.

This, and all sorts of other voice-based digital assistants will appear in future and will help increase productivity. If the Scottish Government is willing to embrace this type of tech and invest in it, its target will be that much easier to reach in the next five years.

Whatever its approach, I’m happy that Voice Technologies is right at the heart of the cloud-based, voice-first future.

*Source: Nuance

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