David Astley, head of health and emergency services at Virgin Media Business, talks about a future where doctors consult patients remotely.
At a government event recently, Bruce Keogh, the medical director of the NHS, said he would like to see more doctors regularly offering remote consultations to patients via video link within the next year. With the NHS facing severe spending cuts, the move could allow the NHS to make savings while reducing waiting times for millions of patients in the UK.
But is this a step too far? Is remote consultation a service that the public actually wants from their family doctor? To find out, YouGov polled over 2,000 people recently and found that almost 29 per cent of people in the UK would like to see GPs start offering consultations via video link in the next decade.
Just under a third might not sound much, but if you consider how many millions of appointments NHS doctors conduct each year, it's clear that there is a huge demand from patients for virtual consultations. As well as delivering a service for which there is clear demand, experts have suggested telemedicine could generate savings of £1bn a year for the NHS and a massive reduction in the number of hospital admissions.
Telemedicine could also help Bruce Keogh get a few steps closer in realising his dream of a 24-7 NHS. But before routine virtual consultations become a reality, the right infrastructure must be put in place. That of course costs money, and like most organisations the NHS doesn't have bottomless pockets. It must therefore find creative ways of delivering innovative new services, within budget.
It's a big challenge, but it's one that the NHS is more than up to, as shown by the many organisations across the country that are already reacting to spending cuts by working together and investing in resources that will serve multiple regions rather than just one.
This is an approach that's proving to be particularly effective for the Lancashire NHS Foundation Trust, which last year saw eight healthcare trusts team up to launch a collaborative procurement partnership.
The pioneering organisations invested in a new high-speed network, so that health and social care workers across the region could collaborate more effectively and work more easily whilst on-the-go. The network, as well as a bespoke service desk providing a single point of contact for the county's healthcare community, is helping them do more with less.
Successes like this prove that shared services work on a regional level, but that's merely the beginning. Imagine what it'd be like if healthcare organisations worked together on a national level. That's the aim of Public Services Network. It's set to revolutionise how organisations in the public sector procure and use technology; reducing costs and improving services, and all while facilitating a new era of healthcare provision.
So while speaking to a doctor via webcam might sounds like something out of The Jetsons, it's good to know that the groundwork for the intelligent healthcare of tomorrow is already underway.