The hospital of the future could very well be in your homes; at least, that is what some envision. The UK National Health Service (NHS) is taking a bold step by rolling out ‘virtual wards’ – a total of 10,000 of them – by September 2023. This move aims to ease capacity pressures in hospitals while allowing patients to receive hospital care in the comfort of their homes.
Research conducted by Oxford University shows promising results for the ‘Hospital at Home’ scheme, particularly for elderly patients. After six months of care, they demonstrated outcomes on par with those who stayed in a traditional hospital. Moreover, they were more likely to recover and avoid long-term residential care.
For ‘virtual wards’ to reach their full potential, technology will play a central role. Alongside video-conferencing for remote consultations, the incorporation of digital diagnostics, medical-grade wearable devices for health monitoring, and secure access to patient records outside hospital settings are vital in ensuring high-quality care.
However, the more imminent challenge is the shortage of skilled staff. The NHS, with approximately 47,000 nurses short in supply, faces an uphill battle in implementing the scheme. Although the strain on hospital beds may ease, healthcare professionals are still required to attend to patients in virtual wards, and in-person visits necessary for tasks such as blood drawing and end-of-bed assessments.
Despite these obstacles, one thing is clear: the trend towards providing medical care at home is on the rise. As ‘virtual wards’ continue to evolve and technology advances, patients may find themselves at the centre of a new era of healthcare where the distinction between hospitals and homes begins to blur, ushering in a future of healthcare that promises greater accessibility and patient empowerment.