The Caring for doctors, caring for patients report from the General Medical Council (GMC) stated that 'Medicine is a tough job, but we make it far harder than it should be by neglecting the simple basics in caring for doctors’ wellbeing'.

There is significant evidence revealing that workplace stress in healthcare organisations has an impact on the quality of care for patients – causing poor patient safety outcomes such as medical errors, as well as repercussions on the health of doctors and pharmacists. Even before COVID-19, the mental and physical wellbeing of healthcare professionals has been a focus, with concerns around patient safety and retention, as the NHS faces a shortage in the profession, as well as the declining number of medical students training to be future doctors. In addition to this, research conducted by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) found that 72% of pharmacists reported their work had negatively impacted their mental health and well-being, with reasons including workload, long hours and inadequate staffing. The pandemic has only intensified these pressures.

Simon Applebaum explains how digital solutions, such as remote monitoring devices, can help to ease the workforce burden faced by doctors and pharmacists and deliver the benefits of digital healthcare.

The increase of digital innovation

Where previously digital innovation was seen as something of the future, it’s now a consumer expectation that was broadly unmet until March of 2020. Last year, health and care organisations across the nation had no choice but to adapt to the new landscape and implement available technology to help existing services work more coherently and deliver care to the safety of people’s homes for those most vulnerable.

With lockdown restrictions in place, we saw an abundance of new digital healthcare apps and tools enter the market, such as Test and Trace, virtual consultations and on-demand doctor apps. Despite these digital technologies being developed to help in times of need, the reality is that these are not new, but are only now being leveraged for the benefits they bring. This includes an increase to 85% utilisation of electronic prescription services, as well as 99% of GP practices using remote consultation platforms, compared to before lockdown, where only 25% of GP appointments were carried out remotely, demonstrating how the figures have been reversed due to the pandemic.

Remote monitoring solutions were requested by the Department of Health and Social Care to help care home patients, as well as to support patients with long-term conditions or those discharged from hospital to free up COVID-19 beds. Remote monitoring is an essential area of technology adoption at both a local and regional level since COVID-19, and will continue to play an important role in easing the considerable pressure and aiding collaboration between doctors and pharmacists.

Pharmacies are also looking for greater efficiencies as they are being asked to do more, with less, particularly during challenging times. By adopting modern and digital technologies to automate internal processes, and implementing bulk dispensing robots, for example, pharmacists can work smarter and free up resources to provide value-added services such as remote consultations and support.

Applying real-time data

Remote monitoring devices record real-time data and patient vital signs, ensuring that care is maintained regardless of the patient's location. By providing enhanced real-time visibility of their patients in a more manageable format, these technologies can help to reduce the stress on doctors and pharmacists during challenging times.

A fundamental benefit of remote monitoring devices is the advancement of the quality of data and information to help deliver effective, timely and safe care. The data stored in these devices can contribute to a more complete medical history, as well as inform clinical research.

Measurements carried out by the patient, such as blood pressure and weight, become available to their doctor instantly. Patients who miss a measurement automatically receive a reminder, and doctors are notified when patient measurements fall outside of the normal range. Operating this way reduces the administrative side of the doctor's role, without affecting the quality of care.

The benefits of this real-time data can also be applied in pharmacy settings, as there is the possibility for pharmacists to conduct more efficient medication reviews, check for medicines adherence and connect with GPs where needed, in turn, improving population health management.

Collaboration is key

Patients are given much greater involvement in the management of their health by connecting them with their clinical teams from the comfort of their home, while healthcare professionals monitor their vital health information. Clinical teams can access the necessary information about their patients quicker than they would in the traditional setting, allowing them to rapidly assess a patient and intervene when and where more urgent care is required.

As a form of preventive care, remote patient monitoring puts everyday wellness at the centre of patient care. It actively involves patients in their healthcare by allowing them to willingly take control with the necessary tools and resources in place. When patients participate in the process, it is more likely that they will become invested in improving their health with their doctor and pharmacist’s guidance, allowing for a more collaborative experience for all.

Providing socially distanced care

With restrictions in place reducing the availability of face-to-face consultations, video consultations and remote monitoring technologies help to minimise the footfall in healthcare facilities and allow resources to be focused on where they are needed the most. With less congested waiting rooms, doctors’ schedules are made available to allow for other patients or essential work to be prioritised.

In a pandemic, there may be worries around the health of the doctor or pharmacist and potentially passing on the virus to patients while trying to maintain care. However, remote monitoring can allow care to be continued virtually, maintaining social distancing rules and limiting the risk of cross-contamination in order to protect the vulnerable and the NHS.

The use of reliable and consistent data in real-time enables doctors and pharmacists to have access to vital information, provide feedback, make medicine adjustments or other therapies while the patient stays at home. This technology helps to assist in managing growing demand without straining those doctors and pharmacists who are already under pressure.

Utilising online consultation and/or online fulfilment services is another significant way pharmacists can support patients remotely. By offering a straight-forward virtual service with automatic order reminders, patients – especially those who are vulnerable – are further protected, with no need to leave their house. With patients from across the UK having the ability to manage and fulfil their own medication online, pharmacists and GPs will save time and be able to focus on more important care duties while patients are kept safe.

Conclusion

The NHS People Plan and NHS Long Term Plan prioritise staff retention and satisfaction for doctors and other staff groups, outlining how in the next five to ten years, they will establish a medical workforce fit for the future. This prospect is being driven by the new way in which patients expect care to be delivered through technology. We must build on good practice and initiatives to create the conditions to ensure the NHS attracts, supports and retains its doctors.

Doctors and pharmacists are crucial members of the NHS workforce, and more must be done to ensure their health is as much of a priority as that of their patients. Moving forward, the smarter use of technology such as remote monitoring solutions, which allows doctors to have real-time visibility of their most at-risk patients and run ‘virtual wards’ – and the adoption of digital tools within pharmacy to automate key processes, such as the assembly of medicines and video consultations – must play a key role in our future model of continuous and preventative care, but just as significantly, to reduce the pressure on healthcare teams.

Simon Applebaum is managing director of Spirit Digital