The last year has seen extraordinary strides in the uptake and adoption of digital solutions across all aspects of life, whether that is online shopping, Zoom meetings or digitally facilitated health and care. Necessity, of course, is the mother of invention and when people are literally risking their health (if not their lives) simply by being in close proximity to one another, the benefits of digital innovation seem obvious.
While it is widely recognised that there are differing levels of digital maturity across the health and care system, and even more so within the care system itself, organisations like NHS Digital and Digital Social Care continue to develop, fund and extol the virtues of digitised care solutions, whether that be around assessment, discharge and withdrawal, improving the exchange of care information between organisations, digital care planning, or remote monitoring. The Chief Executive of Care England, Professor Martin Green, has recently reiterated the role of digital transformation as one of Care England’s key strategic priorities.[i]
But perhaps a less obvious advantage of digitisation is its potential to improve an organisations’ environmental and sustainability credentials. For example, Kaiser Permanente estimated that implementing its electronic health record system eliminated 1,000 tonnes of paper and 68 tonnes of x-ray film with a calculated savings potential of 21,000 tonnes of CO2.[ii] Similarly, remote monitoring and digital symptom checkers have the potential to reduce the need for ambulatory visits and, if visits do take place, a client with a complete electronic health record will enjoy more productive visits and less unnecessary double treatments. Replacing physical visits with telemedicine can result in a 40-70% reduction of carbon emissions.[iii] In Japan, remote bladder monitoring, which uses wearable sensors to show when a patient needs to urinate, is being hailed not only for its contribution to quality of life and client independence, but also for greatly reducing labour and laundry costs, with significant energy savings.[iv]
Of course, the use of digital technologies within the care sector does not come without cost. Tech solutions require devices and IT infrastructure (servers and data centres) that consume energy and produce electronic waste. This has to be offset against any energy savings and benefits that are claimed for digital solutions. However, for care businesses that are serious about the environmental and sustainability agenda, digital solutions offer plenty of promise.