Asif Dewan on the way technology has helped treat conditions such as osteoarthritis more effectively than routine care
As the covid-19 roadmap out of lockdown is rolled out, most of the country is breathing a collective and careful sigh of relief. Not so much in the health sector, though. Once the worst of the covid-19 pandemic is over, hospitals and clinicians up and down the country will still play catch-up. Waiting lists are surging across the nation, hundreds of thousands of people have waited over 12 months for treatment, and although NHS staff have already powered through an immensely traumatising year, they’re the ones who will have to pick up the pieces.
It’s difficult to imagine a better time to embrace new solutions that can help bring down waiting lists and alleviate some of the pressure on the NHS. Recently published research even shows that in some cases, new treatment made possible through digitalisation is superior to traditional care. The research, conducted by the University of Nottingham in a randomised controlled trial using data from telehealth company Joint Academy, shows that treating chronic knee pain digitally yields significantly better results than traditional care.
The first thing that comes to mind is “why?”. Why does digital treatment of osteoarthritis in the knee slash pain by 41 per cent, while routine care only manages to reduce pain by 6 per cent? And why does digital treatment improve physical function by 48 per cent, when routine care only does the same by 13 per cent? We don’t really know, but a qualified guess is that digital treatment of osteoarthritis consists of an individualised treatment plan combined with access to frequent check-ups with an assigned physiotherapist. In other words, the kind of continuity that is key to treating osteoarthritis successfully, and the kind of continuity that is impossible to achieve through routine care, regardless of the pandemic. There just isn’t that kind of time and resources available to check up on osteoarthritis patients on a daily basis.
Additionally, as patients are doing their part to protect the NHS by staying at home, they avoid visiting their GP or physiotherapist. Giving patients the choice in how they seek treatment and making it accessible through digitalisation will play an important role in ensuring the health of our nation, today and well beyond the covid-19 pandemic.
Digital treatment has the potential to do significant good for both patients and the NHS. With nearly nine million people living with osteoarthritis in the UK, this isn’t a small issue—particularly not as we’re seeing planned knee and hip surgeries in the thousands being postponed as the NHS is fighting its way through the pandemic. Now is the time to utilise the digital treatments that are available. Doing so will both help patients and give the NHS some much-needed relief.