The power of preventative care

Actively maintaining health and treating illnesses as early as possible are among the most significant goals in modern healthcare, and technology has a significant role to play in this transformation. 

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Like many countries, the UK has a population that is both increasing and growing proportionally older. This is a good thing – that more people are living longer lives is unquestionably an indicator of success in many areas, especially healthcare. But this demographic shift is changing the needs of our society, and the ways in which services such as healthcare are provided will need to change with it. Older people need more access to healthcare, and in the decades to come they will need this access to continue for longer; the King’s Fund has predicted that over the next 20 years, the population aged 65-84 will rise by 39 per cent and those over 85 by 106 per cent [i]. In March this year, the government identified ageing as one of the Grand Challenges facing the UK [ii]; the following week, Jeremy Hunt, secretary of state for health and social care, opened a speech to the British Association of Social Workers with an admission of how well the UK is meeting that challenge: “in truth, not well enough.” [iii]

Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, has said that “finding reforms that balance good quality care with the funding needed to provide it is incredibly challenging.” [iv] For longer lives to be healthier lives, the UK must find more affordable ways for people to get the best care, where it’s needed.

One of the most important ways this can be done is by creating a system in which people are kept healthier and treated earlier. The NHS is currently acting as a ‘sick care’ system, treating people when they fall ill, however this care model is unlikely to be sufficient to meet with the rising demands on the UK’s health service. While the savings of preventative care are hard to quantify, no-one would dispute that actions to reduce smoking, for example, have saved the health service billions of pounds. “No-one produced evidence of the cost-effectiveness of wearing seat belts in motor vehicles,” noted Public Health England’s chief economist, Brian Ferguson, “yet the impact on population health has been enormous by any standards.” [v]

The factors that act as “seat belts” in modern healthcare include wellness and healthy habits, home monitoring and home management of conditions, and the interplay of acute and primary services. Embedding and amplifying these healthy behaviours with innovative technology can, like a seat belt, act as a simple and effective barrier to the need for treatment and expenditure that could have been avoided.

At Philips, we think about these factors not just in terms of the advanced healthcare systems we design but also in the consumer products we develop. In significant public health issues such as air pollution, for example, there is the preventative care offered by air purification and better ventilation. In the challenge of obesity, there is a significant role in a healthy home life, including food preparation – a study of more than 12,000 Americans found that adults who ate home-cooked meals were 26 per cent less likely to be obese [vi]. Sleep, too, has been shown to affect a variety of long-term health conditions, and technological solutions now allow for in-home monitoring that could provide preventative care for the up to 40 million people who have undiagnosed sleep disorders [vii]. In the transition from “sick care” to “healthcare”, technology that gives people more information and control of health-related factors has a huge role to play.

Connected care is not only useful for maintaining health, but also for ensuring that people who may receive some level of care avoid the need for urgent or acute care. This year, the Local Government Association reported that hospital admission for elderly people who have suffered a fall is likely to rise to 1,000 per day by 2020. This huge public health problem costs the NHS four million bed days and £2 billion a year [viii], but it is both predictable and largely avoidable. Philips’ CareSage, which is not currently available within the UK, is an example of a type of preventative technology that can make a difference; our predictive analytics engine uses machine learning and risk data to identify where resources can be best used to prevent falls.

Most preventative and continuous care will happen in the home, because keeping people out of hospital is more affordable and much better for their health and happiness, especially if they are elderly; NHS medical director Stephen Powis recently said that a person over 80 can lose muscle mass equivalent to ten years’ worth of ageing in ten days when in hospital [ix] . At Philips, we believe that people’s health can only be monitored and supported in this more diverse, widespread model if clinical technology is connected.

In the construction of the Philips Future Health Index, an in-depth survey of more than 33,000 health professionals (HCPs), insurers and members of the public, our researchers have created a comprehensive record of the effect technology is having on health systems. Last year’s report found that connected healthcare is already much more prevalent than many people realise, with 48 per cent of HCPs reporting an increase in the use of connected care by primary care doctors, and 38 per cent reporting an increase in the rate of use by other primary and secondary healthcare services. Of the 19 markets we surveyed, the UK leads the field in spending on IoT devices in healthcare. This will have a real impact on some of the most common causes of hospitalisation; for example, 31 per cent of cardiovascular patients are offered at-home monitoring of blood pressure or heart rate as an early treatment. Cardiac conditions are the single highest cause of admission to critical care in the UK.

While healthcare in the UK may be more integrated and connected than many people realise, it is important to note that we are still in the early stages of an extensive process. At Philips, we believe that government, businesses, healthcare professionals and patients must work together in order for the benefits of preventative care to be felt across society. The old model of healthcare is changing, and this is a pivotal moment in which the nature of that change can be decided. We believe that preventative care is the way forward and Philips are committed to supporting both healthcare systems and individuals to ensure that we are able to live healthier lives, for longer.

For more information on Philips’ solutions and to watch the full video, please click here.

To download the Future Health Index 2017 report in its entirety, please click here

Neil Mesher is CEO of Philips UK and Ireland.