Over the last two features I have discussed the current status of and opportunities in the healthcare tech market and explored the potentially burgeoning home monitoring market. In the third, and last part of this series, I look into answering the title question: does a healthy future involve more technology and less property?

Patients continue to find comfort and convenience in accessing their healthcare support via the vast number of platforms available, but in more recent times the increase in demand has been likely due to lockdown, the governments guidance for isolation and pressures on NHS resource.

A barrier to wide-spread adoption still remains though, such as the thought that you can’t replace the “in-person” benefits of a consultation, but I don’t see a widespread replacement of our much needed medical professionals as the intention. Instead, digital healthcare providers are there to drive efficiencies so those patients that do require a face-to-face consultation can continue to do so relieving time pressures for less crucial appointments.  

Conversely, for those who would prefer or benefit from digital healthcare platforms, whether it is because a patient’s access to their GP, pharmacy or dentist is limited, or perhaps where public transportation is restricted for rural or urban areas, there continues to be options. At the moment however, these options are B2C-led with what appears to be a “postcode lottery” approach to tech platforms available through the NHS.

Clearly technology goes beyond the traditional “bricks and mortar” approach, and we’re likely to see continuation of the consolidation of physical space – particularly for outdated, inefficient and not fit-for-purpose buildings. The rise of health hubs is a case in point which replaces these not fit-for-purpose buildings and brings a number of services (GP, pharmacy, dentist, mental health, community care etc) together in one space. Good examples of these hubs can be seen in Wakefield, West Yorkshire and Bakewell, Derbyshire which are changing the composition and use of buildings to bring together both physical and technological space under one roof, ensuring the output is focused on a better, consolidated patient service. This is a model we have seen replicated in shopping centres and high streets with their evolving mixed-use offering.

And it’s not just on a large hospital estates that we see the impact. We may begin to see fewer consultation rooms at a local GP and dental practices as a result of the use of data to accurately project the number of online consultations, which may lead to fewer practices and pharmacies in our towns and cities as prescription services are offered online more widely with delivery. However, with this new technology also comes the need for space to host servers and perhaps other equipment in data centres. We know that in 2013/14 Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust delivered a new data centre to enable fully electronic patient records, robust business and financial reporting capability and a move to communicate more effectively with Social Care to enable more effective discharge planning and bed management, all leading to better patient care.

Throughout this series, I’ve intentionally focused on primary care but that’s because you can’t really replace in-person therapy for mental health issues (particularly when acute) into an online format, and you can’t complete surgery virtually. There is still a need for significant high quality expert healthcare service and space which is unlikely to change. What will change is how we use that space and our buildings more widely, how often we use them (as home monitoring advances) and how adaptable they are as technology advances. As with many industries, there is a place for both the physical and virtual space, but the role for each has, and will continue to evolve as demand increases for quick, cost effective and accessible services.

I hope you have enjoyed this short series on healthcare technology, if this or any other topic has been of interest do get in touch.