In recent years the way in which health systems have commissioned and provided care has changed dramatically. The progression of integrated care systems, increased use of population health data and focus on reducing clinical variation has seen health systems develop the models of care they offer in response to presented need. The healthcare workforce is constantly evolving as professional groups adapt to these changing requirements, with new roles developing that enhance what the differing clinical groups are able to provide.
At one time or another we will all access and use healthcare services. As consumers, we will have an understanding of how elements of the healthcare system work, and expectations on the treatment we will receive and the outcome for the individual patient.
The use of data and business intelligence
We know that there are seasonal shifts in demands for services, and that individuals accessing healthcare services present with differing levels of complexity and requirement. Healthcare providers have an established history of using data to ensure that they understand the demand profile, and differing levels of clinical complexity, ensuring that services can be offered which aim to meet the needs of the population served.
Much has been written on the developments in Artificial Intelligence, which presents the potential to revolutionise a range of healthcare investigations and treatment options. Machine learning is already being used in a range of areas within health, from informing the developments of clinical pathways through to understanding patient behaviour, to supporting completion of administrative tasks which enable the hospital to operate on a day to day basis.
Are systems ready for COVID-19?
National and local health systems response to COVID-19 has seen organisations work collaboratively, and at pace, to respond to the crisis, increasing capacity in key areas whilst also shifting settings in which care is delivered across community, outpatient and inpatient care settings. These changes will have been informed by data and critical clinical insight.
We know that COVID-19 presents challenges, not just in the way that demand for services will change, but also the impact on the workforce who are involved in the care delivery chain. The availability of doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, allied health professionals, social workers, carers, and administrators working across health and social care services is critical to maintaining service continuity. Decisions will need to be made in terms of prioritising services; understanding those that need to be continued, those that need to increase provision, and those services where resource can be redeployed to support service continuity in priority areas.
Whilst organisations will have pandemic response plans in place, it is critical that these are agile, informed by real-time data, and clinically co-designed. The need for healthcare systems to respond to these levels of demand has not been seen for generations. To ensure local health and care systems are able to respond, key elements need to be in place.
Whilst in many ways health and social cares response to COVID-19 will develop into business as usual for the duration of the pandemic, as the levels of infection decline, restrictions are reduced and communities to return living and working as they did previously, it is likely the way in which consumers access and utilise healthcare will change. It is unclear if this will be a fundamental shift in society’s expectations and engagement with health and care services, however, whatever the impact, service provision and planning will need to move quickly to ensure the benefits to the individual patient and health and care provider. Alternative models of care delivery (virtual clinics, video triage, video consultation) could become the new norm. Health and social care commissioners and providers will need to be prepared to retain and develop the alternative delivery models which have been put in place.