Nearly nine out of ten of Scottish citizens believe the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart technologies will enhance healthcare delivery in Scotland.

Eighty-eight per cent of people polled in new research commissioned by outsourcing giant Capita – on behalf of the Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN) believe increased digitisation and use of technology have the potential to reduce costs and alleviate pressure on healthcare services, at a time when Scotland’s working age population is expected to decrease faster than in the rest of the UK.

In fact, the research also finds that 84 per cent of Scottish citizens said digital access to healthcare (e.g. online chat with a health professional, video appointment with a GP) is important to where they choose to live – further underlining the need for greater connectivity.

Jack Anderson, Head of Digital & Innovation for SWAN at Capita IT & Networks, said: “In Scotland today, citizens are used to using digital technologies at work or at home, and this research shows that when it comes to healthcare, the expectation is no different. From video consultations to smart medical devices, Scottish citizens of all ages believe the IoT will improve healthcare across the country.”

He added: “In recent years, significant technical leaps have been made and there is considerable buzz around how the IoT will impact health services. With a robust and future-proof network in place, everyone in Scotland will have the opportunity to benefit from connected healthcare – including the one million people living in remote or hard-to-reach areas.”

Given Scotland’s geography and dispersed population, there is strong potential for digital technology to augment healthcare. The survey found that people in Scotland broadly have an appetite for change in how healthcare is delivered, with almost half (47 per cent) of respondents saying they would use video link (e.g. Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp) to contact a healthcare professional, followed by an online chat portal (43 per cent), a virtual reality nurse or doctor (20 per cent), and a smart assistant or speaker (17 per cent).

There were some differences between age groups in the results; video was more popular amongst 18-34-year olds (54 per cent) than over 55s (43 per cent), and online chat was also more popular with 18-34-year olds (52 per cent) than the over 55s (35 percent). However, one key takeaway is there is still a quarter (25 per cent) of people living in Scotland overall who wouldn’t want to use digital technology at all to contact a healthcare professional, and in the Highlands, this was more than a third (34 per cent).

Alan Whiteside, Innovation Consultant, Research, Development & Innovation Department, NHS Highland, said: “NHS Highland is keen to explore the clinical and non-clinical applications from enabling technologies – but research shows expectations around what technology can deliver are far lower in the region than the national average. This is not surprising, considering that in some Highland areas, residents struggle to even get 2G network reception.”

He added: “However, through IoT and smart devices, we can identify deterioration in health earlier which helps shift healthcare delivery from being infrequent and reactive to frequent and preventative. As technology continues to develop, we have a great opportunity to develop disruptive healthcare services in the Highlands that could also help enhance healthcare in other regions of Scotland.”

The research also examined Scottish citizens’ views on using technology to monitor and treat patients remotely, with 88 per cent of respondents believing connected and smart technology will enhance the care of vulnerable or elderly people – helping them stay in their own homes for longer. When asked about specific technologies – such as a smart device like a pillbox that reminds a patient to take medication, or smart furniture that can alert a physician in the event of a fall – responses were positive.

Sixty-two per cent would like to smart devices available in the future, 46 per cent smart furniture, 36 per cent an ingestible pill (e.g. medication with a tiny sensor swallowed by a patient that can transmit data to a healthcare professional), and 22 per cent a nursing robot. Furthermore, these technologies and can also support the treatment of chronic conditions in all groups of patients; for example, asthma, which costs NHSScotland £91m a year to treat, and diabetes, which costs £1bn.

Jack Anderson added: “There are many compelling reasons to enable connected healthcare – from caring for the elderly at home to gathering data from the IoT, it can help policy setters identify health trends across regions and direct spending accordingly.”

“This can keep people in Scotland healthier for longer, while helping to relieve cost pressures. We’ve been working hard to address this through SWAN – offering a high degree of fast and reliable connectivity, and a secure and robust delivery framework for all of Scotland’s population.”

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