Ron Simpson: Improved technology could help healthcare

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This week, on behalf of the Rutland Voluntary Sector Consortium I attended, with others, the Healthcare Efficiency Through Technology conference in London which was supported by the Government Procurement Service seeking to enable better patient outcomes while reducing costs.

The conference is the place to learn about the latest plans being developed by the NHS and the Department of Health. Our party was searching for successful applications of technology and innovation in health care that might be applicable in the digital Rutland of tomorrow. A key interest is the provision of better support and quality information to patients and those in care.

Topics covered by the plenary sessions at the conference included, using technology to give patients and carers more control of care, the progress made in creating online access to patient records and the work being done to improve GPs’ IT services.

On the sensitive topic of protecting patient data, Dame Fiona Caldicott chaired a session on the current Information Governance Review. The Director of Business Improvement and Research for NHS England spoke on barriers to telehealth and telecare.

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health spoke on taking a “digital first” approach to health care, delivering a paperless NHS by 2018 and self-care for long-term conditions through the use of electronic information and technology. All of these sessions gave an insight into the future.

Leaving the conference I was struck by just how much dependence was now being put on the potential of innovative technology as a means of improving care. I found myself asking how much of this innovation was about more effective service delivery and how much about reducing costs.

No doubt an ideal government outcome is if both can be achieved.

Perhaps a suitable area in which to benchmark actual progress being made is in the fight against arthritis, an ailment prevalent in the female side of my family in the North East and the subject of much charitable work here in Rutland.

This month sees a repeat of an international effort to bring arthritis to the attention of the public. World Arthritis Day was established in 1996 by Arthritis and Rheumatism International and is celebrated each year on October 12.

The day aims to raise awareness of the condition and make sure that sufferer and carer know all the support and help that is available to them.

On Monday here in the UK, the results of a national survey were published. The survey was used by a national charity to mark the launch of National Arthritis Week this week.

The charity was aiming to raise awareness of the frustrations felt by people with arthritis, who are often prevented from doing day to day tasks due to the pain and stiffness in their joints. Survey respondents were asked to imagine how they would feel if they couldn’t do some of the simple task many people with arthritis struggle to do.

Seventy-five per cent of people said they would be annoyed if they had difficulty walking, 72 per cent if they had difficulty getting dressed and 70 per cent if they experienced difficulty in doing basic household tasks like cooking, cleaning or washing dishes.

Despite all the technology to date, one in six people in the UK is living with the daily, invisible pain of arthritis making such routine tasks a challenge.

It is personal support and medical care that currently makes the difference to sufferers. Short of a cure, technological advance will surely supplement but never replace caring human intervention.

Government and third sector investment programmes should reflect this. I am not sure this is always the case.