Is healthcare on demand a game changer?
Patients expect quick access to healthcare these days. Is healthcare on demand going to be the game changer everyone hopes it will be? We explore the topic to find out more.
What is on demand healthcare?
On demand healthcare is a service that provides patients with access to the healthcare they need via a mobile app or website. The purpose of an on-demand service is to provide people with easy, instant access to medical help anytime, from anywhere.
The service can range from online appointment booking and the facility to ask medical questions; to being able to have a video appointment with a health professional.
Why is a game changer needed?
Prior to the Covid pandemic, the NHS was suffering with much-reported “strain on an already overstretched system” back in 2019 (1). The strain was caused by short-staffing, under-funding and other issues. Unfortunately, some NHS services had to cancel treatments, re-schedule operations and leave patients waiting for a specialist consultation for up to a year. Then, of course, the pandemic hit.
The situation isn’t going to change by itself. Bear in mind, there are 32% more British citizens who on average live 14% longer than in 1957 when the NHS started. Things will only spiral downwards unless there’s a change and a release of pressure that can enable the NHS to focus money and resources where it’s needed the most.
As documented in an article by The Health Foundation (2) addressing the backlog of healthcare needs will be the biggest concern.
“As well as fewer patients being treated, 2020 saw six million fewer people referred into consultant-led elective care than in 2019. These ‘missing patients’ remain the biggest unknown in planning to address the backlog of unmet need created by the pandemic.”
On demand is in demand!
For a few different reasons, people have turned to healthcare on demand services. We think it’s down to three core reasons.
1. Growing patient expectations
According to a 2019 Future of Healthcare survey (3), 64% of patients in England said that their satisfaction with healthcare services hinged on wait time and speed of appointment. Moreover, the same survey found that 60% of people also want a convenient location or channel for the healthcare service. The study also found that virtual care appeals to all patients. But patients with a major health issue that affects their daily lives are most interested in receiving virtual care. Most importantly, it enables them to discuss their health issue from home without travel and without face-to-face interaction with anyone.
People also have increasingly busy lifestyles. Many people think that fitting in a healthcare appointment should be as quick and easy as any other chore they have to do.
Couple that with the ever increasing and ever aging population in the UK – There simply aren’t enough GP appointments available for everyone. Patients, quite rightly, want and need something to change.
2. People rely on their smartphones & online connections
87% of British adults own a smartphone (4). Likewise, 81% use their smartphones to search for goods and services. It’s clear that Brits are used to running their lives with online tools.
During the first Covid lockdown, people used Zoom and Teams to connect with family and friends. They ordered pizzas on an app, they ordered all sorts of stuff from Amazon. In addition, they even ordered groceries online (if they were lucky enough to get a delivery slot!) Using online apps and websites to connect with the outside world quickly became the norm. Even for people who previously shied away from using technology.
They want to use these online connections to manage their health concerns too.
3. The Covid-19 effect
The backlog of delayed treatment for around 4 million patients during the pandemic has caused an increasing number of people to seek interim check-ups and medication while they have been waiting. This has caused the influx in demand for primary care appointments.
Most importantly, when people became ill with a Covid-19 infection, or needed to self-isolate with symptoms, the only option available was to use a healthcare app to have an appointment with a GP remotely.
What’s available today?
From the NHS
As far as the NHS offering goes, all services are being built into the NHS App. Anyone aged 13 and over can download the app and use it on a smartphone or desktop. With over 20 million people using the NHS App (5), this now has reasonably wide coverage. But that still leaves another 40% of adults in the UK who could use it, but have chosen not to download it yet.
NHS Digital has been working with suppliers to integrate forms-based triage systems into the NHS App, to enable patients to be guided to the best care route for their needs.
Personal health records have now been integrated into the NHS App too. This gives patients anytime online access to their own medical records.
You can also get your Covid vaccination pass via the App in case you need to attend an event or travel abroad.
Most GP clinics started using a video calling service for patient appointments during the height of the pandemic and this does appear to be still available in some areas. But you can’t book a video appointment directly through the NHS App which is disappointing.
Aside from the NHS, other private healthcare on demand providers in the UK today include:
Push-Doctor: Providing a gateway to NHS services online, for some but not all NHS Trusts. Patients who can’t access the service because their Trust is not signed up, can register with the service and pay for a virtual appointment whenever they need to. The doctor can prescribe medication or refer you to an NHS specialist.
Top Doctors: Provides patients with anytime access to private doctors via their online messaging service or video conferencing service.
Babylon: Providers of an AI patient health assessment service, that guides the patient to a suitable path for care. The path can lead the patient to have a phone call or video appointment with a doctor. This service is available 24/7. The doctor might be located on the other side of the world, but he/she can send your prescription electronically to your local pharmacy.
But is this going to be enough to disrupt the healthcare industry?
The people want a game changer, something that will disrupt the way that healthcare services are delivered to patients. Do you think that the healthcare on demand services offer enough to patients to be the change that’s needed?
Perhaps when the NHS Digital team have finished rolling out all planned changes to the App – patients will be able to self-serve and reduce the resource blockage caused by running routine appointments face-to-face. The remaining 40% of British adults need to be encouraged to download the App. Once more of us start using online services it will help to tip the scales towards a more scalable system for everyone.
And what’s the future of on demand healthcare in the UK?
Once the NHS App is being used by most UK adults, and routine check-ups have moved to online consults. Subsequently, the NHS will be able to use freed-up resources to help patients with serious cases more effectively.
We foresee that more private healthcare on demand services will become available and usage of these services will become more common.
Other developments that would make healthcare on demand more valuable:
- Provision of an online searchable cross-specialism, healthcare provider database. To enable people to select the right NHS service for their case. Alternatively if they can afford to choose not to use the NHS, to be given a clear picture of what private options there are.
- Joining up of patient medical records data from NHS and private healthcare sources, to enable a patient to move seamlessly between providers whenever needed.
- Use of data from health trackers, such as blood pressure & heart rate to incorporate into diagnostics and treatment plans.
To sum up, the future looks bright for healthcare on demand, but it will need to go a little way further. Plus more people will have to use the online service already set up, to be the game changer we all need.