Digital connectivity will pave the way for a new era in healthcare 

Two Medical Scientists / Neurologists, Talking and Working on a Personal Computer in Modern Laborato

The UK Government aims for every NHS hospital, GP practice and community care service to gain access to full fibre broadband - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Years from now, when we reflect on the millions of healthcare professionals that rose to the challenge to fight Covid-19 with bravery, dedication and courage, will we see the pandemic as a turning point when healthcare truly embraced a digital transformation? 

COVID-19 has become a catalyst for change in many ways, accelerating digitalisation across the board. We’ve seen email, telephone and video consultations replace face-to-face appointments and an explosion in the use of healthcare apps and web platforms to check symptoms, stay informed and find new ways to keep fit and healthy. 

GP practices and hospitals in Ipswich, Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds and indeed, nationwide, have adapted with incredible agility to provide crucial services, from remote diagnosis and treatment to symptom tracking and online test booking. This has made many services more accessible and more efficient than ever before, even for the most remote or vulnerable of patients. But is our infrastructure up to the challenge of further digitalisation across the entire health service? 

Full Fibre – a foundation for digital transformation 
The more widely available full fibre is, the easier it will be for this momentum towards a digital transformation in healthcare – hence why the Government has made levelling up connectivity across the country a key part of its ambitions. With the UK set to have 80% of the country covered by gigabit-capable broadband by 2025, now is the time for those within the healthcare industry to start thinking about what this could potentially unlock for them in the form of new digital services. 

Innovation in this space is already unlocking many new insights into healthcare, making it possible to develop therapies and approaches that could strengthen health and care services in the face of perhaps more, as yet, unknown challenges. 

Harnessing analytics, for example, is already proving invaluable in the diagnosis and treatment of various cancers, while data platforms have allowed for rapid research into the spread and risk factors associated with COVID-19. Governments and local authorities in a growing number of countries, including South Korea, have used analytics to trace the contacts of people infected with the virus. 

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Closer to home, the Newcastle University Urban Observatory has used sensor data to identify bottlenecks where social distancing cannot be maintained, understand how citizens adapt as restrictions are imposed or lifted and ultimately, prepare for future crises. Using digital healthcare tools and data as a preventative tool has potential applications on a much grander scale – even to identify and quash future pandemics. 

Building a digital future 
At CityFibre, we’re hard at work to bring full fibre to towns and cities across the UK, including right here in Suffolk. We know that change is constant, and that what we rely on today in terms of infrastructure will not be sufficient in the decades, years, even months that lie ahead. 

The UK Government’s current aim is for every NHS hospital, GP practice and community care service to gain access to full fibre broadband as soon as possible and there are a several towns and cities across the UK, just like Milton Keynes University Hospital, which we have already helped make the switch. 

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Ultimately, we want full fibre to be the standard communications infrastructure across the UK; not just for public services, but for citizens and businesses too. This will be a critical element in ensuring communities across Suffolk can use online health services effectively and that the shift to digital healthcare reaches its full potential. 

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