72 Years & going digital – Happy Birthday NHS

72 years ago when the National Health Service launched, I wasn’t born. But I imagine the majority of work was done solely with typewriters, paper, pens and good knowledge of how to check pulse and blood pressure manually.

Fast forward to 2020 and the NHS looks so very different. Those who work in the health service, no matter the role, are of course the main backbone to the organisations operation but increasingly so is the technology that aids staff to undertake their roles. Without one or the other, the NHS would undoubtedly fall.

So much has changed in the short space of time I’ve been working for the NHS too. Back in 2011, we were picking up paper notes and files for patients – some had one file, others had more, with their medical history enclosed. We’d track them using an MS Dos system and those that needed to document the patients information, would do so with a paper and pen, with a letter being dictated and typed up by secretaries.

These days, whilst paper notes still play an important part of detailing a patients history, most of this is slowly being transferred to the electronic patient record system – with just a few clicks we can delve into a patients past medical history – it’s clear, eligible and depending on the situation, available in real time. 

Patient files aside, technology in the NHS also helps patients move along their pathways quicker. For example, if you’re admitted to A&E, your presenting information is taken down by a triage nurse then you’re moved to another waiting area. That information is instantly available to the next team that need to take over your care. If you need to move to another ward to be admitted overnight, or need a follow up outpatient appointment, any tests carried out are available instantly for the other ward/department to see. This ability to see all this data instantly is a far cry from the early days of the NHS and even when I was a patient as a teen – the waits were long, documents would go missing, it was a nightmare.

Whilst all this technology is good, it’s not to say there are no faults. If the systems go down, ultimately the trusty paper and pen will come out, but in reality, that doesn’t affect the care the teams give you, it may just take a little longer to do some tests etc.

My job evolves around the Cardiac Rhythm Management (CRM) Remote Monitoring service at my hospital. In essence, if a patient’s pacemaker or ICD is fancy, they can have a box by their bedside that sends us data about their device automatically overnight, without the need to come into clinic. As part of my role, I help schedule these automatic transmissions, help patients set up their communicators to enable them to talk to their heart device and send us the data.

Patients aged 19 – 95 use the service and more often than not, in recent weeks many have been delighted and amazed that this kind of technology exists. It means patients don’t have to visit the hospital as frequently and we are able to spot any potential issues quickly and help patients sooner than their next designated outpatient appointment. 

Some appointments across the NHS are now also being offered virtually and patients don’t even need to install software on their mobile phone to join. As well as the traditional telephone consultation, if a patient has a smartphone, there’s software which will send patients a text with a link to join a virtual waiting room. The clinician can see who’s waiting and bring them into their consultation, via webcam, at their appointment time. 

And it’s not just hospitals – it’s across all healthcare settings where technology has advanced and we’re beginning to get to grips with it. Take my GP practice – I had a telephone consultation with my GP on Wednesday; on Friday, I went to see an audiologist on the high street. I’d emailed my GP with their findings and expected an email back.

Two hours later, I get a text from my GP, thanking me for my email and findings then telling me the plan going forward. No, my GP doesn’t have my number and I don’t have hers, this was done through their internal system, but to receive a text was a welcome surprise – I’ve not seen my GP face-to-face, through a simple telephone call and associated follow up using tech, we’ve been able to come up with a plan. Even I was amazed at this!

If COVID has taught us anything, it is that the NHS is resilient,  everyone who works in the health service, no matter their role, has an important part to play – and the technology we use daily and often take for granted, also has an important role to play to ensure we can deliver safe, efficient patient care for generations to come.

Happy 72nd Birthday NHS – I’d have sent a letter or a card, but I hope this post will do instead in a digital age!