The Health Care Sector – evolving in a digital world

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Mark Barnett, Dean of Faculty, Computing and Technology at Weston College spoke to Business leader about the evolving digital world we live in and its impact on the healthcare sector.

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Without doubt we are entering a digital revolution that will change the way we live forever; changes will be far reaching, indeed, all aspects of day to day life will be affected. Recent events have brought focus on the demands within the health care sector, and this sector too faces significant challenges as it adopts and integrates emerging technologies into its daily health care practice as it strives to promote personalised healthcare. Ambitions include helping individuals to manage their own health within a community setting, using data tracked by wearable devices or diet-tracking apps, for example, working closely with their GPs or other health professional about targeted preventative care. Wearable devices that can track our steps, sleep patterns, and even heart rate have now become integrated into our lives.

Deloitte Insights stated that by 2040 health data together with data from a variety of other relevant sources will merge to create a multi-faceted and highly personalised profile of an individual’s well-being. Such change and innovation is supported and driven by central Government.  In community health care environments, Government is trailing the use of devices such as Amazon Echo in adult social care, using Alexa to record tasks and reminders for the home care provider/carer to act upon when they arrive at each home visit.  Of course, the use of mobile computing by the Health Sector has been widely adopted with two major national apps launch in the past three years: the NHS app and the NHS Covid-19 app. These examples are the tip of the iceberg; indeed, research has identified that a number of existing and emerging technologies will become the “norm” in health care.  In context, four out of five people in the UK own a smartphone, with over 51% of people aged over 55 using a smartphone. The proliferation of health apps within mobile technologies supports not only fitness but also complex conditions. The openness and ease of use of these technologies provide a seamless interface to an individual’s health profile and offers a potential for proactive health management.

In April 2021, The Kings Fund identified four technological developments that would significantly impact the future of digital technology in health and social care.

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Mobile Computing
  • Personal and wearable devices
  • Internet of Things

IBM states Artificial Intelligence (AI) leverages computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.  Five areas have been identified for AI use: preclinical research, clinical pathways, operational efficiencies, patient-facing applications, and population-level applications.  This translates into using AI in drug discovery, genomic science, diagnostics, and identifying epidemics and monitoring disease spread (Fenech et al: 2018).

The Internet of Things can be a much over-used expression, Jon Crowcroft, the Marconi Professor at the University of Cambridge, in a recent British Computing Society (BCS) article, stated that “The Internet of Things is an idea that has been kicking around for about 20 years, which is when we realised that we should be able to connect devices to the internet that don’t just store information or are just interfaces.”  This principle is further supported by Kings Fund research that identifies that the use of home monitoring systems could pick-up early signs of cognitive decline and other changes in health status.  Whilst still in proof-of-concept, these are indicative of Internet of Things applications that are shaping the future of health care (Piau et al: 2019) and is a snapshot of what the future of health care could become, with the increasing rate of change in technology solutions and the acceptance of telemetric health data becoming a “norm”, we are at the start of an incredible journey.

The digital transformation has started and Weston College is a regional leader in providing the education and training required by the emerging technologies influencing the change.

To support this evolving landscape, Weston College continues to engage with and listen to employers in the sector, ensuring we understand the support they will need to enable the Health Care sector to grow and meet the skills challenges as they arise.  We have been working closely with Health Care partners across the West of England to ensure they continue to inform our curriculum development across our health, digital tech and engineering education and training provision, thereby supporting the needs of the existing and future Health and Social Care workforce.  Indeed, supporting education and training for this sector forms a cornerstone of the West of England Institute of Technology, the industry, education and research collaboration designed to deliver flexible, higher-level technical learning to equip people with the skills to fully participate in, and contribute to, economic growth driven by digital innovation and emerging technologies – of which Weston College is the lead partner.

Visit the newly created TECH WESTON web page to see the range of bespoke training, online courses, skill-specific bootcamps, and apprenticeship programmes to industry placements: www.weston.ac.uk/techweston

Click here for more content from our special Tech Month, brought you by Weston College.

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