NHS England’s recent strategy paper, ‘A Call to Action’  Identified a potential £30 billion funding gap between spending and resources by 2020-21 if services continue to be delivered as they are now. This challenge will require significant changes in how healthcare is provided so that productivity can be improved and costs reduced.
While much attention will be paid to structural changes around how the NHS is organised, and to where and how patients access healthcare and are treated, funding decision makers need to recognise that investment in appropriate technology can make a major contribution to improving the efficiency of the healthcare system. There is a general misconception that the up-front cost of healthcare technology is prohibitive and, at a time of economic austerity, should be amongst the first areas to be constrained. But, this can be a false economy. Persisting with older technology can lead to higher maintenance costs, disrupted patient appointments due to increased downtime and slower scans, while newer equipment can increase productivity with higher uptimes and better quality images that enable more confident diagnoses and make repeat scans less likely.
Meanwhile, some newer scanners feature state-of-the-art technology that can help save time for clinicians and reduce the burden of paperwork, for example connecting to field engineers who help solve issues remotely so that clinicians can focus on providing patient care. In addition, many medical device manufacturers are investing in the development of new products which have been engineered to meet specific needs at a lower price point. Many are specifically designed to be portable and efficient to operate for the user. Not all situations require the high end technology, and manufacturers are providing equipment that can be tailored to the particular needs of the user or service.
Revolutionary developments in medical technology encompass not only the physical kit. The rise of digitisation, particularly in imaging and in data analysis, transfer and management, is good for the patient and also has huge potential to boost productivity. The combination of big data analytics and clinical information is helping healthcare professionals to identify issues, design solutions and implement patient and system level changes much faster than previously possible. There is a vast reserve of data in healthcare and we are only at the beginning of making the most of it.
The medical device industry, by investing in the development of new technologies, is playing an important role in helping practitioners to deliver better, more cost effective care to patients. Clinicians and technology providers alike now need to ensure that UK healthcare budget holders don’t just focus on the perceived costs associated with new equipment, and instead understand and recognise the value, productivity potential and long term benefits that investing in appropriate technology can bring, both to improving patient care, and to helping the NHS meet its funding gap.