Remote treatment calls for a collaborative approach

The COVID-19 pandemic is driving countless changes in our daily lives, including how we approach the delivery of healthcare in the UK. In response to the crisis, NICE has recommended the use of digital communication solutions and the implementation of alternative ways to deliver medicines. To help to relieve the strain on the healthcare system and keep the public safe, we must work together to ensure that patients who receive ongoing treatment are able to treat themselves at home where safe and possible.

Remote treatment options are often more convenient for patients, as they enable self-medication in the home and thus reduce the time and any expenses incurred by attending frequent hospital appointments. This also decreases chances of infection, which is of paramount importance and naturally a cause of great concern during the current crisis. Indeed, during the COVID-19 pandemic, remotely treating patients may be the safest option for those with chronic conditions. For the NHS, enabling people to self- medicate frees up time for clinicians to spend with other patients and can even lead to increased cost savings.

However, there are still several barriers to overcome for remote treatment to be effective and the right choice for patients. Firstly, there can be logistical challenges, such as setting up medical software and equipment remotely. Secondly, and equally as important, is the absence of the ‘human touch’ in delivering treatment. To ensure patients feel that they are being listened to and supported, regular face-to-face contact should be incorporated into the remote treatment process whenever possible.

Across the healthcare sector, we can be hesitant to look outside our own siloed roles and do things differently. However, the COVID-19 outbreak has dramatically increased the need for healthcare systems to explore remote treatment options. Hospitals in the UK are being asked to conduct more video-based consultations, and

clinicians may discover that interacting with patients in this way is more effective than previously thought. Indeed, COVID-19 may well prove that remote treatment is possible and that new, innovative ideas can be implemented quickly and deliver positive results.

Collaboration is key to unlocking innovation

Collaboration within the healthcare sector can overcome some of the challenges of remote treatment by pooling together the expertise and resources of the NHS, pharmaceutical companies and other organisations within the industry. Successful partnerships and joint working initiatives can lead to improved patient experiences and outcomes by reducing any disruption to planned treatment and ensuring that individuals can still receive the full benefits of their treatment at home. As well as partnering with the NHS and research institutions, pharma companies are also collaborating with businesses outside of the healthcare space. For example, there have been trials into the use of drones to deliver medicines to patients who are self-isolating.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, many of us recognised and understood the benefits of treating patients remotely, but the barriers often seemed too challenging to overcome in the short term. The pandemic has accelerated the need for the healthcare sector to work together to provide innovative remote treatment options, and we expect this crisis to shape the delivery of healthcare for years to come. By working together with healthcare providers, researchers and tech solutions, we will be able to increase access to remote treatments and make a real difference to patients’ lives.

Dr Dan Casey is UK medical advisor at Celltrion Healthcare UK