Northern Irelands Health and Social Care (HSC) systems, like many others globally is facing a significant number of challenges. These includes long waiting times and decreasing GP practices. Overtime, a significant shift has been witnessed in healthcare approaches worldwide with a growing interest in predictive care aiming to proactively identify and prevent potential health issues before they arise, but what is it?
What is predictive care?
Predictive care leverages modern technology and machine learning to identify individuals at risk of developing specific health needs. By analysing medical histories, physical activity and context, models can detect patterns and make predictions about future health risks. This revolutionary approach utilises existing data and makes earlier intervention possible, transforming the healthcare system and leading to better patient outcomes while reducing costs.
This innovative healthcare model offers immense potential, creating a paradigm shift to revolutionise healthcare in Northern Ireland and improve patient outcomes by focusing on prevention rather than reactive treatment. A widely believed consensus concerning the key health issues in Northern Ireland is that there is an over-abundance of hospital provided care with an excessive reliance on it. Many believe the system needs increased performance management paired with strategic workforce panning.
Growing evidence shows that health inequalities can be reduced by using data to find those in need rather than awaiting crisis, particularly for those with the most unequal outcomes.
New solutions to age-old challenges
Northern Ireland’s increasingly ageing population, as published by Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), shows an increase of 92,312 or 5.1% in the latest Census (see figure 1). This is also putting tremendous pressure on the healthcare system. The successes in extending life expectancy comes at the cost of rapidly increasing unhealthy years for the system to support. The current model is economically unsustainable even in the short-term, providing sub-optimal quality care to patients.
(Figure 1: Northern Irelands ageing population-UK Population Data)
So how can predictive care create a paradigm shift in Northern Ireland?
A proven method that empowers patients
The successful impact of predictive care can be seen in HN’s work with Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, in England. HN, a healthtech company specialising in predictive care approaches, conducted a randomised controlled trial in South West Staffordshire, looking at how existing patient data could be used to predict those most likely to attend A&E or need hospital care in the near future. This method was supplemented with targeted clinical coaching to reduce patients’ dependence on A&E and GP services.
Using this unique approach, Staffordshire ICS was able to identify and prioritise people at risk of worsening health conditions in real-time by analysing their patient records. The algorithm targeted individuals who were likely to consume three or more acute hospital bed days in the next six months.
HN’s analysis showed that in Staffordshire the 5% highest consumers of hospital services were using 71% of all non-elective (NEL) hospital bed days. 88% of these patients had more than one long-term condition.
(Figure 2: HN Case Study, 2022)
Potential benefits of predictive care in Northern Ireland
Northern Irelands healthcare system is arguably better funded then other parts of the UK. However, statically, it paints a very different picture altogether. Both waiting list sizes and times for first appointments are worse in Northern Ireland than the UK. Prior to the Covid19 pandemic, Northern Ireland’s waiting list for patients waiting over a year for consultant-led outpatient appointment superseded England 100 times.
Preventative care can reduce these figures by intervening early, reducing unplanned bed days and improving overall health. As demonstrated by the evidence above (figure 2), the implementation of technologies such as HN Predict can reduce A&E attendances and costs.
(Figure 3: Northern Ireland waiting time statistics, outpatient waiting times, quarter ending December 2021- Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency 2022)
According to the Department of Health, almost 85% of outpatient appointments in December 2021 breached the ministerial waiting time target by over nine weeks. Over 52% of outpatients were waiting more than a year to be seen. A further, 81.5% breached the ministerial 13-week waiting time target for treatment, with 58% of patients waiting more than a year. Almost 57% waiting for a diagnostic test breached the target of nine weeks with over a third waiting more than 26 weeks.
Several complex factors lead people into health crisis. These factors do have data tags, and modern data science and machine learning allow us to process this data and produce astonishingly accurate predictions. The randomised controlled trial cited earlier showed that over 80% of emergency health events could be predicted 4 to 6 months in advance.
Crucially, predictive care can empower individuals to take charge of their own health. By leveraging predictive analytics, we can shift the focus from crisis management of these diseases to prevention and ultimately better self-care.
Existing data is the key to unlocking the power of prevention
One of the key factors driving this paradigm shift is the vast amount of available data. With the digitisation of healthcare records, providers have access to sufficient patient data to allow accurate prediction. This data, when analysed using modern data science and machine learning enable accurate predictions by considering numerous factors leading to health crises.
The implementation of AI-powered predictive care represents a transformative step in Ireland's healthcare landscape. By shifting the focus from reactive to proactive healthcare, Ireland can significantly improve population health, enhance patient outcomes, and create a more sustainable and equitable healthcare system. This exciting paradigm shift holds immense promise for the future of healthcare in Northern Ireland.
Chief Commercial Officer, HN