Over the course of the last century, the UK has been something of a trailblazer in the delivery of healthcare.
Founded in 1948, the NHS was the first ‘single-payer’ healthcare system in the world, and has continued to provide care which is ‘free at the point of entry’ ever since.
During the past decade, we in the UK have seen a significant change in the way doctors deliver care; the advent of the internet and its rise to prominence as an essential household utility has increased the speed at which we run our lives, and made access to products and services much more convenient.
The healthcare industry is just one sector which has benefited from this technological advance in several ways.
Let’s take a look at some of the innovations in online healthcare delivery which have been made over the last 20 years, and speculate on what the future might hold:
WebMD, the first comprehensive online health resource, is founded. Based in the US, the site hosts information on illnesses and medicines, and even has a symptom-checker utility. It would later partner with Boots pharmacy to deliver the same service in Britain.
NHS Direct is set up. Led by nurses, this telephone service enables patients to get 24-hour advice on symptoms over the phone.
Pharmacy2U is founded in the UK, and would become the first mail order pharmacy to fill prescriptions online and to be approved by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.
The law in the UK is changed to permit the establishment of online sale of medication by pharmacies.
Pharmacy2U enters into a relationship with the NHS to assist in the development of its repeat prescriptions service.
Other pharmacy sites begin to introduce a consultation service, whereby a doctor can assess the condition of a patient through online analysis. Many pharmacies link up with online clinics in order to provide this service. This provides patients with the capacity to get start to finish care from one website.
A new law is passed making it legal for internet pharmacies to fulfil NHS prescriptions. Pharmacy2U is the first online pharmacy to be awarded an NHS contract.
NHS choices is launched. The website contains encyclopaedic information and advice for patients on a variety of conditions and medications.
Fraudulent sites have by now become a growing problem for the industry. The RPSGB introduces the ‘Green Cross’ scheme as a response, to help customers identify genuine accredited pharmacies.
High street pharmacy Lloyds purchase a 33.3 per cent stake in online pharmacy Dr Thom. They would later go on to buy the remaining two thirds and bring Dr Thom’s consultation service in-house.
The Green Cross scheme is adopted by the General Pharmaceutical Council.
Several online pharmacies begin to offer patient-doctor consultations over Skype and video conferencing.
The NHS instigates a nationwide switchover to electronic prescriptions (the EPS). As of October, 5,407 (68.6%) GP practices and 11,559 (98.3%) pharmacies are live participants.
In addition to providing private prescriptions and consultations online, companies like Treated.com also work with healthcare commentators to provide helpful advice on current health issues.
With the arrival of GP video conferencing, where else is there for the healthcare industry to go in terms of innovation?
It’s difficult to say, but perhaps the next major development will enhance the capacity of GPs to assess a patient’s condition. Maybe we’ll see mobile phone apps or accessories which can help patients measure their own blood pressure or blood sugar levels.
How these might work, however, is something which I’ll leave to the tech experts to explain.