Prediction Is Better Than Cure

Paul Bell, partner, discusses the importance of digital technology in healthcare design.

Prediction is better than cure began to emerge as a theme in 2019 at the European Healthcare Design Congress – it being next step in the long established principle of prevention being better than cure.  Little did anyone anticipate that one year later, over 15 million cases of Covid-19 would dramatically change the context of healthcare across the world, bringing the need for prediction into full focus.

How do we harness the potential of data to better predict health demands, both physical and mental, across our global communities?

Ryder is currently working with the Academic Health Science Network on the development of a digital skills hub – it is clear that digital means many things to many people, across many facets of care.  Is digital about app based check-in technology, patient records, more effective multi agency communication, telemedicine, diagnostic technology, robotic surgery, artificial intelligence based decision support or, more likely, all of those areas and more?

The NHS Long Term Plan recognises the importance of digital technology, setting out a strategy for digital first primary care options supported by the use of technology to join the dots between health and social care, creating digital flags to predict potential health conditions such as cardiovascular problems and promoting greater self management using digital tools.

Lessons recently shared from Australia’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic include the enhanced use of telemedicine such as monitoring and outreach to vulnerable patients.  The development of these proactive interventions move us along the journey from prevention to prediction, bringing us closer to realising the aim of delivering more care closer to home, which has been a consistent ambition throughout my 20 years in UK healthcare design.  Several recent papers refer to the hospital becoming a place of last resort, so how do our healthcare facilities respond to a more predictive environment?

The growing use of affordable environmental sensors in our city streets and our buildings can capture more intelligence on air quality and building energy use which helps us better predict health concerns.

We can use data sharing for more effective utilisation of office based settings away from the hospital campus for clinical delivery via telemedicine technologies such as monitoring, outreach or remote consultation and follow up.  If we can reduce reliance on acute hospital settings by improved delivery of more care closer to home, we can reduce the demand for acute hospitals.

Could that help reduce NHS estate backlog maintenance liabilities, bring greater agility and efficiency to healthcare estates?

And could we bring more healthcare functions into the high streets away from acute hospital sites improving accessibility, reducing travel demands for patients and staff, and bringing increased footfall to help revitalise the heart of our urban centres?

Which brings me back to another theme of blurring the boundaries between health, education, workplace, and home to redress the health inequalities of our urban communities …

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