Reducing The Strain – Telehealth and the NHS: Nathan Little

9th September 2020

The NHS: arguably one of the best, if not the best, healthcare system in the world, delivering affordable and effective care to an entire nation. In fact, the NHS was ranked the #1 health service among 11 well-off nations by the Commonwealth Fund twice in recent years. However, for all its achievements, the NHS has faced an ever growing, multifaceted strain on people, budgets, costs and patient load over the years. Stack these mounting internal drivers with Covid-19 and the view quickly becomes bleak.

Let’s look at some of the ophthalmic numbers around the NHS to fully understand the task at hand; the population of the UK is currently 66 million, and based on a report from 2013, 2 million live with sight loss so great their daily lives are affected, which equates to roughly 3% of the total population1,2. By 2030 it is estimated that 2.7 million Britons will live with some type of sight loss, and by 2050 it could be as high as 4 million.  Some projections show a 10-year demand increase of 25%, 30% and 22% for cataract, medical retina and glaucoma services respectively4. In 2016/2017, Ophthalmology was one of the highest-ranked specialties for services in the NHS with 7.6 million hospital provider attendances per year, with a 30-40% increase in demand projected over the coming two decades 5,6,7. To meet the demand of these growing numbers, an estimated 22% increase in consultant posts was required from 2018 to 2020 alone5.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. New technologies enabling remote care and the mass adoption of remote screenings and triage services offer a potential key to unlock the untapped potential of in-home/remote care. A recent white paper by the Now Healthcare Group indicated that new technology enabling telehealth services was rolled out across the NHS and could save an estimated £7.5 billion in public health services. The white paper figures also referenced a few other key findings, such as, 27% of the consultations managed by telehealth did not need to be seen by a GP, 41% could have been handled by another healthcare provider and a potential 73% drop in GP patient pressure could be seen. In addition to the calculated cost savings, one must appreciate the time savings as well for the NHS, practitioner and the patient. Streamlining the whole process from first patient interaction to referral and treatment can provide valuable cost savings for all stakeholders. A recent US study found that telemedicine appointments increased efficiency by 20%, lowering the overall time needed per appointment. A similar report by UC Davis found that over 18 years (1996-2013) and over 19,000 patients, telemedicine collectively saved patients 9 years of travel time, $3M in costs and 5 million miles.

27% of the consultations managed by telehealth did not need to be seen by a GP, 41% could have been handled by another healthcare provider and a potential 73% drop in GP patient pressure could be seen.”

A critical area, as shown above, is in the ophthalmic/optometric space with the need from both patient and provider to make savings. The innovative technologies by AOS have the ability to make a direct, imminent impact on the NHS and private ECPs (eyecare providers) by enabling an ECP to see the patients that need to be seen in-practice – whilst managing qualifying patients remotely. Through our ever-expanding product portfolio and IP library we hope to continue to enable and grow the telehealth space meanwhile bridging the gap between ‘in-practice’ and ‘at-home’ care.

The AOS web-based platform provides multiple value propositions that enable more efficient practice and patient management both inside and outside the clinic, including but not limited to:

  • Objective image analytics for ocular surface disease management
  • Physician/technician mobile imaging app for slit lamps and free hand
  • Integrated telemedicine portal
  • Patient facing triage imaging via patient app

By Nathan Little, Chief Strategy Officer for Sparca


  1. The state of the nation eye health 2017,: a year in review, RNIB
  2. The economic impact of sight loss and blindness in the UK adult population Lynne Pezzullo,1 Jared Streatfeild,1 Philippa Simkiss,2 and Darren Shickle3
  2. The Way Forward – January 2017 The Royal College of Ophthalmologists standards-publications-research/the-way-forward/
  5. See the light_improving_NHS_eye_care_capacity_in_England.pdf