The Role of Technology in Shaping the Future of Health and Social Care

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Technology is a common part of our society, and not just in our homes. It is also a part of our health and social care and is being used to try and improve what these sectors can provide.

Not only is technology being used for the benefit of patients, but it is also being used by health and social care providers as a range of tools for staff to learn and deliver their services. Whilst some technological advancements are relatively new to the health and social care scene, they have the potential to revolutionise the services people access.

Take a look at how technology is shaping the future of health and social care.


1) Understanding the Impact of Technology on Health and Social Care

As it currently stands, technology is being used in a range of ways within health and social care. This doesn't just mean robotics, but also things like electronic recording systems and communications. For example, social media, which is a common element in today's society, is being utilised by patients as a way to support each other through support groups, such as enabling people to share their experiences dealing with chronic illnesses or conditions.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare had to be altered as face-to-face consultations were no longer practical or safe. The involvement of technology meant healthcare could be received by people whilst remaining safe, such as having consultations with doctors over the phone. It also meant health information could be shared easily, though this posed the risk of misinformation being spread online. 

Things like virtual reality and augmented reality also have health and social care applications, which have the potential to improve patient engagement and help in a variety of situations and circumstances.


2) Telemedicine: Revolutionising Remote Healthcare

Telemedicine is the word used to describe healthcare being provided via technology, and it enables people to access healthcare services from all over the globe. This includes the likes of electronically obtaining prescriptions and monitoring information remotely to name a few, and it was utilised during the Covid-19 pandemic. This use of technology has an array of benefits within the healthcare sector.

For some people, communicating with health and social care professionals is not practical due to their remote location, or because mobility issues make travel more difficult. Instead, telemedicine enables them to obtain healthcare via online or telephone communications so they don't have to travel excessively. Consultations can now be over the telephone or the internet, using the likes of Zoom and FaceTime to enable patients and service users to interact with healthcare staff.

Even for people with local healthcare services available, telemedicine can make healthcare access easier as it means people no longer need to take more time out of their day than necessary. Whereas going to the relevant healthcare providers can be time-consuming and disruptive, being able to access services online makes it easier for people to get the help they need whilst being able to continue with their day.

There are even devices and apps that can track information concerning health, which can then be monitored. On a small scale, the likes of Fitbits can track information such as heart rates. For more healthcare-specific instances, glucose levels in the body can be tracked by devices for people with diabetes. Because of telemedicine, chronically ill people who cannot attend face-to-face services can also be monitored by remote patient monitoring, which is where a healthcare professional can view the medical data concerning a person from a different location. This information is collected continuously.


3) Robotics and Automation: Improving Efficiency and Quality of Care

The use of robotics and automation can have a range of benefits for patients within health and social care settings. For example, previous patients have had to have open surgery for a variety of reasons, which requires large incisions to grant surgeons access to the relevant area of the body. In contrast, robotics are often used in minimally invasive surgeries, which provide a faster recovery time in comparison. They can also be used in open surgeries.

A minimally invasive procedure does not require the long incisions that an open surgery uses. Instead, the incision into the body can be a few millimetres long to allow specific surgical equipment to enter the body. This equipment is then controlled by the surgeon to complete whichever task is necessary.

When robotics are used in surgery, surgeons can have more control and precision whilst operating when compared to the more traditional surgical techniques. Minimally invasive surgeries also leave scars that are smaller and less noticeable than the open alternative, and they can result in less blood loss for the patient. Whilst using robotics for surgery is not a treatment option for everyone, it offers numerous benefits for the patient and can result in a reduced amount of time staying in a hospital.

This is not the only way in which robotics are used in healthcare settings. Robotics can be used for sanitisation purposes, which enables staff to spend more time doing other tasks instead of spending hours cleaning. Robots can potentially complete these tasks quicker than a human could too, meaning equipment and rooms can be utilised by patients and healthcare professionals quicker. This can give more patients access to these services as less time is required to clean them and make them suitable for use again.


4) Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality: Providing Immersive Therapeutic Experiences

For some patients, the introduction of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) into health and social care has enabled new treatments to be formed. For example, virtual reality is being trialled within treatments such as exposure therapy, which is when someone is introduced to objects that either cause anxiety or are triggering whilst in a safe environment. Exposure therapy using virtual or augmented reality is being trialled with veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as by people with other conditions. However, virtual reality cannot be used to help with all traumatic experiences for ethical reasons.

Virtual reality and augmented reality can also be used in physiotherapy to improve the levels of engagement with treatments. For example, it can be used in games to get people to complete the exercises they are required to perform as part of their therapy. The use of virtual reality and augmented reality can distract a person from their pain as they complete these exercises, as well as make them more likely to continue with their physical therapy as the activities are less tedious.

Whilst virtual reality and augmented reality are still being introduced into therapeutic situations, they can potentially help in a range of different therapies to improve recoveries and promote patient engagement.


5) Social Media and Online Communities: Fostering Patient Support and Education

Social media has helped with communication and connections between people and is now being used within health and social care to help patients. Whilst social media can be used as a method of communication between healthcare professionals and their patients, it also enables an online community to be built so patients can communicate and find support with each other.

These online communities enable patients and their families to communicate with each other about their conditions and situations, allowing them to find people who understand their circumstances. It also means they can exchange information, advice and experiences with each other, such as how to manage symptoms of a condition or what people can potentially expect. This can help to make patients feel less isolated.

Social media in health and social care also provides a method of education for patients, particularly concerning any information that is inaccurate or wrong. Whilst there is the risk of incorrect information being posted and shared, these platforms can also be used by experts in the health and social care fields. If health and social care educators can establish an online presence that is known for providing accurate information, it can help to ensure people have the correct knowledge to make decisions about their health and social care instead of using misconceptions they may have.


6) The Continued Evolution of Technology in Health and Social Care

Technology is already having a huge impact on health and social care, and there are still developments to be made. As technology continues to evolve, and as we find more applications within these sectors, the services provided to communities can potentially reach more people and offer solutions to previously unsolvable issues.

If you are looking for a career in health and social care, there are a range of health and social care diplomas and apprenticeships that can help a person qualify for an array of roles in these sectors. Organisations can also offer care worker and care management training, so you can reach your career goals within this technologically advancing area. Whilst technology is advancing and has the potential to improve services, health and social care staff are still an imperative element of these sectors and help to provide what their patients need.

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