Did you know that over half of people in the UK (57 per cent) use at least one type of health app or wearable device daily? According to Proprietary Association of Great Britain’s (PAGB) latest research, millennials and generation Z have the greatest appetite for using tech to monitor and manage their health (64 per cent) but they’re not the only ones: 29 per cent of 46-55 year olds also choose to track their health via a digital device or mobile app.
Developments in technology are offering people new ways to access health advice and information and driving an increasing interest in health and wellbeing.
Over the next five years it is predicted that artificial intelligence (AI) and remote monitoring will be the most disruptive forces in health apps and wearables.
Although not yet widespread, some AI-powered, consumer operated diagnostic and monitoring devices are already on the market across the world. These are transforming how people interact with the health system.
For example, a Dutch startup has developed an app that could identify skin cancer. By uploading an image of their suspected skin problem to the app’s database the user can be either reassured or directed to seek medical attention.
Looking to the future we can imagine such uses will be widespread. Through AI, apps will not only be able to track activity, they will be able to offer tailored, automatic self-management advice to support healthy living.
The personalisation of online symptom checkers and digital triage is likely to transform the information people can receive through the triage process, and hopefully address the inherent risk aversion currently built-in, by ensuring they receive more tailored information.
As AI technology enables a more personalised approach to health, it will be essential that information regarding self-care and the importance of pharmacy is not overlooked.
But how can pharmacy and the wider healthcare system capitalise on this opportunity to support and empower more people to look after their own health?
Understanding when and how to access appropriate healthcare services is critical and pharmacy plays an essential role in supporting people to self-care.
Each year, £810 million is spent on GP appointments for self-treatable conditions. This figure could be dramatically reduced if more people sought the advice of a pharmacist first.
Effective online information, symptom checkers and signposting could support this move – giving more people fast access to appropriate care from their local pharmacy.
In our recently published report ‘Self Care and Technology: Harnessing the Potential of Technology to Transform Self Care’, PAGB outlines some of the most common technologies already supporting self-care and sets out a vision for how they could be advanced in the future. Central to achieving this is ensuring that pharmacy is fully embedded into healthcare systems.
Giving pharmacists ‘write’ access to people’s health records and joining up IT systems, particularly between pharmacy and doctor’s surgeries, will helpfully embed pharmacy in the primary care team.
In particular, enabling ‘write’ access to medical records will improve continuity of care between the pharmacy and other healthcare providers, giving people the confidence to go to the pharmacy first because they will know their wider healthcare professional team will be aware of advice and treatment offered.
Our research also found that only around half of pharmacists (45 per cent) agree that it would be beneficial to provide more information digitally to enable people to self-care.
Challenging concerns about the impact of technology on community pharmacy and highlighting how pharmacy teams can harness people’s increasing reliance on digital information, will be key to making progress in this area.
In fact, pharmacy should reap the benefits of NHS IT system development and advances in technology; for example, allowing pharmacists access to advice and support within Primary Care IT systems and ensuring online GP systems triage people based on their symptoms and signpost to local pharmacies for self-treatable conditions, rather than connecting them to a GP.
As people are increasingly interested in using technology to better understand their health, there is a real opportunity to explore how this can be directed to support greater self-care and encourage the appropriate use of pharmacies to give people fast access to the right care.
John Smith is Chief Executive of Proprietary Association of Great Britain.
This article also appears in the October issue of Pharmacy Business.