Virtual wards in the UK are beginning to see adoption in the National Health Service (NHS), the state healthcare apparatus, as a valuable measure to cut costs and reduce pressure on busy doctors.
The UK’s approach has already won plaudits, with the World Economic Forum noting in a report the transformative potential of this kind of healthcare innovation, amid growing evidence of their efficacy in replacing visits to doctors.
With an aim to reduce hospital admissions by providing the appropriate level of care to individuals at risk of hospitalisation in their own homes, it involves individuals entering measurements of health metrics like heart rate and blood pressure and transferring those into an app, enabling healthcare professionals to monitor and treat patients remotely, responding in real-time if any deterioration in a patient’s health is detected.
The chief benefit of virtual wards is their potential to relieve the pressure on over-burdened health services. With chronic ailments and lifestyle diseases on the rise, constant real-time remote monitoring of at-risk individuals may reduce the need for frequent hospital visits, and ultimately improve healthcare outcomes.
What can virtual wards achieve?
- Increased accessibility: Patients can gain access to healthcare services that may not be available in their local area, reducing the need for travel and improving patient outcomes.
- Cost-effectiveness: Virtual wards reduce the need for hospitalisation, which is typically more expensive than remote monitoring and relies on a limited number of available beds.
- Improved patient outcomes: Healthcare professionals can monitor patients more closely and respond more quickly to any changes in their condition based on accurate, real-time data, leading to better patient outcomes.
- Reduced hospital stays: Patients can receive treatment and monitoring at home, reducing the need for long hospital stays and promoting faster recovery times. As with any development, concerns have been raised over virtual wards.
Disadvantages of the virtual wards model
- Technological barriers: Patients must have access to the necessary technology, equipment, internet connectivity, and technical skills to participate in virtual wards.
- Limited patient engagement: Some patients may feel disconnected from their healthcare providers, leading to reduced engagement and potentially decreased patient outcomes.
- Privacy concerns: Virtual wards require the sharing of sensitive patient information, which may raise privacy concerns.
- Lack of face-to-face interaction: Virtual wards lack personal interaction between patients and healthcare professionals which is often essential for building trust and improving patient outcomes.
There are obvious use cases for virtual wards, but they depend on easy access to technology to work effectively. Countries in the Middle East such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia are perhaps obvious candidates, and with lifestyle diseases necessitating more sophisticated long-term care strategies, virtual wards may be a natural development.
Indeed, major healthcare distribution company Tamer has agreed on a five-year deal in 2022 to facilitate remote patient monitoring in Saudi Arabia. This may be the first of many.
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