My nephew is about a year old, but already he’s spent a fair bit of time in hospital. In the last two cases he was admitted by ambulance in one and through A&E in the other. In both cases his symptoms seemed fairly routine and, as with most people in the UK, his parents didn’t want to overburden doctors for what was probably a minor illness (i.e. cold), not that they could always get an appointment.
They’re not bad parents, I’m sure the NHS would prefer more like them rather than the over-protective types who take their children in for anything, but it highlights an area where there’s massive potential for private companies and services, an area tech could help play a part in as well.
I’ve sort of hit on this already, but I think parents and child health are a particularly good area for this sort of application, partly because children tend to pick up a lot more illnesses and partly because neurotic parents are likely to want this service. Plus, it’s much harder to identify problems when your child can’t tell you it hurts, or where.
So, aside from offering tools to allow remote monitoring of temperature, pulse, heartbeat, urine and whatever else, monitored by both automated systems and health professionals (perhaps elevated to them should any levels indicate an issue) to keep an eye on your child 24/7 and preemptively notify parents of any potential issues (temperature would be a good place to start, sensors could be built into clothing, it should catch infections as well as being able to trigger simple alerts about when your child is too hot or too cold).
Taking it further, and away from tech, how about a simple service you can call who will pop-in, collect some samples and analyse them? The cost of analysis is dropping and opening it on a commercial scale should help drive costs down further. Simple tests of blood, sputum, saliva and other body fluids/excreta should highlight any underlying problems and is usually the first thing done when you’re admitted into hospital. As long as the fee is reasonable, perhaps covered by a monthly cost, parents would feel happy to get things checked knowing they’re paying for something and not bothering an overrun doctor.
Aside from helping give parents peace of mind, and helping them to identify when to panic and when not to, it would help with the current issues faced around the world with shortages in doctors. The Economist discusses ways doctors are becoming less of the centre of our healthcare, increasing the roles of other health professionals and using remote monitoring:
Less flashy technology, though, could make the biggest difference by reducing the number of crises which require a doctor’s intervention.
Patients are much happier to monitor themselves at home with gadgets bought online than they used to be, and gadget-makers think there is a huge potential for growth in taking the trend further.
Such technologies have long seemed promising; recently the promise has begun to be borne out. Britain has completed the world’s biggest randomised trial of telehealth technology, including gizmos from Philips. The study examined 6,000 patients with chronic diseases. According to preliminary results of a study by Britain’s health department in December 2011, admissions to the emergency room dropped by 20% and mortality plummeted by 45%.
If nothing else, catching illnesses early often means a much better rate of recovery and easier, less expensive treatment.
I’m a big fan of the NHS, but with an aging population and the number of illnesses and treatments only on the increase, with slowing drug development and no magic bullet on the horizon, perhaps we need to look at ways to work smarter.
Parents are, understandably, neurotic about their offspring. At the moment the only solution is to visit a surgery, hospital or drop-in centre, but what if there was another way, a simple service to let them know if if was okay to panic (or to nudge them they should)? It would help people on both sides and, ultimately, the kids as well.