From fixing and treating to predicting and preventing | Stuart Palma

Stuart Palma

With 70 per cent of the NHS budget spent on long-term conditions, technology could hold some of the answers to the £22bn NHS black hole, writes physiotherapist Stuart Palma.

Over the past 100 years, technology and science have had a huge impact on the planet. And they have brought enormous benefits for humanity, especially in health. People are living longer than ever, which is a tribute to the advances we have made.  

The ability of technology to help ‘predict-prevent’ is changing the way we approach the nation’s healthcare. It gives us the opportunity to take control and manage our health, giving us foresight and motivation.  

With 70 per cent of the NHS budget spent on long-term conditions, technology could hold some of the answers to the £22bn black hole looming over us.  

Examples include AliveCor’s Kardia, which allows users to track, analyse and monitor their heart health, and the Moov Now artificial intelligence wearable that essentially becomes your own personal trainer, guiding you through your workouts step by step.  

The Rex Exoskeleton by Rex Bionics is transforming the rehabilitation of spinal cord injuries, and is a great example of how technology and health can work together. 

The Google X smart contact lens, marketed at only 50 cents a lens, sends real-time glucose readings to your smartphone, giving diabetes sufferers a new insight into their health.  

And technology doesn’t only sit within clinical practice – it also helps us make the learning environment more immersive.  

Microsoft’s HoloLens – an augmented-reality device – takes study to the next level, immersing us in 3D anatomy. 

Technology is here, and in the next ten years, we will see even great evolution of this area. It is continually evolving and is necessary for the delivery of better healthcare in the future.  

But some would say we are doing a ‘deal with the devil’. People are suspicious of it, fear it, and even oppose its use.  

I feel they are arguing a case that has long been lost. Bringing out the garlic and crucifixes will certainly not help and only hinders the progress that can safeguard the future of the NHS.  

The bigger question for me is how we use it.

The person behind the technology, behind the equipment, behind the analysis, still comes first. Emotion is unique.  

Technology does not yet possess the emotional quotient or intelligence that we have, which is why we, as humans, are still the driving force behind health. 

It will always assist us, but we will – or should – always be in control of the relationship we have with healthcare users.  

To meet the requirement of a new preventative approach to care, we must certainly embrace it, but more importantly, influence it.  

As healthcare professionals, technology cannot achieve anything if we do not use our expert knowledge and skills to ensure it is fit for purpose.  

We must never forget that in spite of all the technological advances, we are all still human. We will all still want a human to comfort us when we are at our most vulnerable, when we have received bad news, and when our lives are about to change forever.  

So do not fear it – you don’t have to embrace it, but do engage with it.

Stuart Palma is a physiotherapist and professional adviser at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. He is also an honorary innovation fellow at NHS England. 

Follow him, the CSP and the NHS England Innovation Team on Twitter @SP_Physio @theCSP @NHS_Innovation

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