Maintaining sustainability in healthcare is becoming an increasing challenge. It’s often difficult to reconcile the introduction of innovative procedures and equipment with escalating costs. Healthcare systems must be allowed to progress. But to do so, many economies can be implemented through digital healthcare without losing high-quality service.
What is Sustainability in Healthcare?
Sustainability in healthcare is loosely defined as maintaining the highest treatment and preventative medicine level after honoring financial commitments. It’s a combination of social and environmental factors within a viable financial framework. In reality, costs need to be reduced for sustainability to thrive. And theoretically, sustainability has a greater chance of success through digital healthcare. It allows patients to become actively involved in their health. Reducing costs by introducing more digital healthcare should help reserve funds for preventative medicine such as routine screening programs.
Digitalization has already enabled significant savings to be made in the healthcare sector. The introduction of online services for booking appointments has helped reduce staff costs while increasing efficiency within the system. Patients are essentially providing the service. Yet, in doing so, they generally believe they have greater control over their health. For example, lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic saw a reduction in in-person consultations. The crisis inadvertently escalated the introduction of digital services for patients in line with the NHS Long-Term Plan. They are now being encouraged to assess whether their ailments warrant a telephone consultation or a search for information online. But in the process, patients are helping healthcare sustainability by cutting administrative costs. This means at least 400 hours of work from administrators are saved each year by simply making appointments online.
Saving the Environment
Digital healthcare has also prompted a reduction in carbon emissions related to ill health. It has been estimated that one-twentieth of the traffic on the UK’s roads is due to healthcare visits. But digital healthcare can help reduce the harmful greenhouse gases produced by these journeys. By using informative apps, websites, and online consultations via Skype, patients can facilitate a reduction in carbon emissions of around 10%. In addition, if patients use online services to discover their test results and check appointments, the environment can also benefit. Thousands of trees can be saved, resulting in a reduction in the carbon emissions usually produced in the manufacture of paper. The average patient medical file weighs between 0.36 kilograms and 0.62 kilograms. Storage for thousands of records in a single hospital needs to be particularly spacious. It has been estimated that 21,000 tons of carbon emissions could be saved each year if medical records were recorded by digital means alone. The cost of paper is another consideration. The financial savings through no longer using paper contributes to sustainability within the healthcare system.
A Less Vicious Circle
Interestingly, reducing carbon emissions through the increased use of digitalization in healthcare should improve public health. Carbon emissions from vehicles and manufacturing contribute to long-term conditions such as asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Patients who use online services are playing their part in making the environment less hazardous. By staying at home and using digital services, fewer car journeys are needed to take them to GPs’ surgeries. Once the transition to electric cars has been completed, there could be an even greater reduction in illnesses linked to environmental pollution.
Public healthcare expenditure has almost doubled in the last twenty years. It now accounts for around 40% of the total public purse. Some of the increased funds contribute to the ever-growing number of routine tests to prevent cancer from taking hold. Preventative medicine such as mammograms, smear tests, and bowel screening every two years for the sixties needs a large input of funds. The cost can partly be offset by digital health. Encouraging patients suffering non-life-threatening conditions to monitor their health with the help of digital information can reduce costs and free up time for emergencies. Apps for helping patients plan their maternity care can improve efficiency and save resources.
Sustainability is becoming more reliant on digital healthcare to survive. Even COVID-19 has helped persuade patients that it’s in their best interests to transfer to digital services. In exchange, healthcare sustainability may be better balanced to provide emergency and preventative medicine.