The pandemic has forced industries and businesses to rapidly adapt and none more so than the healthcare sector. With the NHS facing unprecedented pressures, there has been a need to rapidly digitise our healthcare system.
In fact, as patients prepared themselves for this shift online, the NHS App was downloaded nearly half a million times when NHS Digital initially launched its response to Covid-19. Whilst this digitalisation has offered many benefits, it also risks leaving the most vulnerable members of our community behind. With many people finding digital healthcare inaccessible, patients have put off seeking vital treatment. For example, as a result of the pandemic, one in five adults are now less likely to get an eye test leaving them at risk of untreated conditions. With the NHS already facing record backlogs, it is essential we support the NHS in offering the in-person and tailored care that patients need to seek treatment. Community-based treatment centres can provide a solution by ensuring patients have access to personalised and local care.
Bridging the digital gap
The pandemic has necessitated a shift online for several routine healthcare services. Many patients have welcomed this digitalisation with almost 28 million people in England registering an NHS login by October 2021. Clearly, for many patients, this shift online is a positive to which they have adapted and welcomed for the ease it can offer. However, for many people in the UK, this digitalisation is leaving them behind.
Considering 11.9 million people in the UK do not have the digital skills necessary for everyday life, this shift online could be leaving 22% of our population putting off seeking medical help. In addition, it is typically the most vulnerable members of our society who are left without access to the internet. With 150,000 residential properties in the UK falling below what is judged to be a “decent” level of internet coverage, many people are left facing digital poverty without the skills or means to get online. Community-based services can bridge the gap across this digital divide. The increased capacity of community-based services often enables the delivery of both online and traditional access to healthcare, this can support the NHS in offering patients both the benefits of digitalisation and the accessibility of in-person care.
Another aspect of this shift online is a reduction in face-to-face appointments. Initial NHS England guidance advised GP practices to utilise an online or telephone triage system rather which has resulted in reduced face-to-face appointments. In December alone, only 61% of GP consultations took place in person in comparison to 80% before the pandemic.
While this digitalisation of healthcare has offered many benefits for some patients, for others, this reduction in face-to-face appointments has left their care lacking in personalisation. Community-based services offer healthcare in a local setting where patients can be seen in person. In addition, community-based services that offer end-to-end care ensure patients are seen by a familiar practitioner who is well-versed in their needs. In fact, 97% of CHEC’s post-cataract surgery patients receive treatment in community settings. This in-person care with a familiar practitioner ensures patients receive care that is truly tailored to their needs.
Delivering better outcomes
In addition to providing increased accessibility to patients, community-based services are vital in supporting the NHS. The NHS currently faces unprecedented backlogs of almost six million patients as a result of the pandemic. The increased capacity of community-based services enables them to support the NHS by helping to tackle these waitlists. As a result, community-based services support the NHS while also ensuring patients are provided with accessible healthcare – delivering better outcomes for both. Imran Rahman, CEO & Consultant Ophthalmologist, CHEC