Health authorities in Britain are trying to encourage the public to shop online and to buy medical devices, in an effort to reduce the number of patients being referred for treatment at hospital emergency departments.
The Health and Social Care Information Centre said online sales of medical devices had surged to a record in January and it was expecting the trend to continue.
It said the number was now more than double the average monthly figure in the UK for this time last year.
The centre’s director, Professor Nick Piotrowski, said: “The online retailing of medical equipment is a growing trend in the United Kingdom and it has led to a marked increase in the number and severity of patients referred to our emergency departments for treatment.”
He added that online sales would lead to better patient outcomes.
“People are now willing to buy and pay for these things online,” he said.
“It’s also creating an environment where people are more comfortable accessing medical supplies and equipment online and this is leading to a reduction in referrals for care.”
He said online purchases of medical supplies were likely to continue in the longer term.
“The impact of these online sales is likely to be very substantial in the coming years,” he added.
“This will be in part due to increased demand for these items in the market as people see the benefits of the increased use of these products online.”
Piotrowsky said he expected that the number referred to hospital emergency rooms for treatment of the flu would continue to rise over the coming months.
“Our estimates suggest that this number will rise in the second half of the year and it will only be around the third of all patients who are referred for care in the next two years,” said Piotrieski.
He said the increase in demand for medical supplies could have a detrimental effect on the NHS in the long term.
“We are now seeing patients with a flu outbreak at home who are seeking out these types of treatments,” he explained.
“As the number increases, the NHS has to find more ways to manage the increased number of referrals for services to treat the flu, but it has to also recognise the significant economic impact of this on our NHS.”
While this is happening, we have to ensure that these services are available in a timely manner.
“The government has said it is committed to keeping the NHS “fit and healthy” by 2020.
The Health Service Executive said it was committed to providing patients with the best possible medical care.”
We also work closely in conjunction with our patient-centred teams to address the complex issues of flu and isolation.”