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Smartphone apps are key to dialling up innovation


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Patients are set to become active players in a technology revolution which could improve their health and revive the NHS

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Smartphone apps are key to dialling up innovation

  1. 1. CONNECTED HEALTHCARE LORENA TONARELLI Smartphone apps are key to dialling up innovation Patients are set to become active players in a technology revolution which could improve their health and revive the NHS I ncreasing patient expectations, chronic disease prevalence and budget constraints are placing un- precedented pressure on the NHS. This is paving the way for technology to transform radically care pathways in the UK. Giving people greater control over their health and wellbeing through digital innovations is a crucial part of this process. At the Nuffield Trust Health Policy Summit, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Patients are ready to take on the challenge. We need to give them the chance to sit in the driving seat.” He added that, although technology is key, it is also important “to change the cultural relationship between doctors and patients, from master and servant, to partners”. A review of the research conducted globally on the digital self-management of asthma concluded that this can im- prove self-care, life quality and medica- tion use. In a US budget impact model for diabetes, self-management technology delayed complications and generated health. In particular, mobile phones are helping people lead healthier lifestyles with immediate and relevant personal support through new apps and websites. They have the potential to be the single most important channel through which we can help improve the nation’s health, address health inequalities and alleviate pressure on the NHS. “Public Health England already has a range of apps available for free from the NHS Choices website, many being among the most downloaded apps in the country. We are keen to develop this whole area and, through our Health X in- itiative, we are working with leading tech startups to bring the most innovative dig- ital thinking to health improvement.” The Health X initiative, which was launched last year, has already produced groundbreaking ideas for products that will help consumers conduct healthier lives. “Whether helping people follow a simple programme to get them off the couch and in a few weeks running 5km, knowing how many calories are in foods or aiding smokers to quit for good within 28 days, we are looking for mobile phones to play a significant role in improving the health of the savings to the health system. Remote monitoring of blood glucose, alone, saved $326 million over ten years. Telemedicine, wearable technology and online resources are all crucial in creating efficient services, potentially saving the NHS money that could be spent elsewhere. But mobile phones are considered the key driver. “Mobile-phone subscriptions exceed the world’s population of over seven bil- lion. It is no surprise that this is helping shape some of the innovations we are seeing in healthcare,” says Dr Mutaz Ald- awoud, a GP in Bradford, West Yorkshire, and digital clinical champion at NHS England. We are beginning to realise the benefits of using mobile phones and apps for medication reminders and communi- cation of vital-sign readings, which helps reduce unnecessary visits to the GP. There are some 40,000 health-related apps available today. Flurry Analytics reports that, between December 2013 and June 2014, daily use of health apps increased by 62 per cent, compared with a 33 per cent rise for mobile apps in general. The NHS Choices Health Apps Library has many clinically safe products for managing health on the go. They include apps for booking GP appointments and understanding laboratory tests, and cover conditions such as autism, diabe- tes, stroke and cancer. Professor Kevin Fenton, national di- rector of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, says: “We recognise that digital technology is revolution- ising the way people get personalised information and interact with their nation over the coming years,” says Professor Fenton. Marple Cottage Surgery, Stockport, Cheshire, has been using interactive self-management plans for asthma and diabetes for years. “Together with advice from our nurses, they help pa- tients control the condition without having to come to the practice,” says GP Dr Andrew Johnson. “We are now about to embark on new areas, includ- ing live video appointments.” Dr Arvind Madan is a GP and chief executive at the Hurley Group, a net- work of NHS practices in London. With colleagues, he created webGP software enabling patients to self-care, check symptoms and consult with their doctor online. “Patients can educate themselves, take control over their health and choose the most appropriate service,” he says. They can expect improved outcomes, thanks to comprehensive history-tak- ing and early-symptom detection and treatment initiation. Practices use their resources more efficiently, and commissioners save money as a result of reduced complications from de- layed treatment and attendance at ur- gent-care centres. In a pilot funded by the NHS Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group, webGP had 36,000 visits in six months. Some 60 per cent of the pa- tients who visited were managed re- motely and 18 per cent did not need the doctor. This saved 400 GP hours. Dr Stuart Bingham, lead GP at the Bar- kantine Practice in London, highlights the importance of online self-help in- formation and consultations. He says: “Technology needs to advance along- side services, to enable primary care to develop and meet demand. However, IT governance and patient confidentiality issues could delay the process.” Crucially, practitioners must be will- ing to engage with technology and ad- vocate its use among patients. Bradford GP Dr Aldawoud concludes: “We need to get the technology to those who need it most, embed it into care pathways, and convince healthcare professionals and decision-makers that, if such innovations are allowed to flourish in a supportive en- vironment, care can be delivered closer to home, saving time, avoiding waste and ultimately improving health outcomes.” Telemedicine, wearable technology and online resources are all crucial in creating efficient services, potentially saving the NHS money that could be spent elsewhere APPLICATIONS rise in daily use of health apps, December 2013 to June 2014 62% Source: Flurry Analytics GLOBAL MOBILE HEALTH MARKET FORECAST Percentage share of overall market, 2017 estimate US/Canada Latin America Africa Asia- PacificEurope $23bn 28% 7% 5% 30% 30% Source: PwC 06 | FUTURE OF HEALTHCARE 23 / 03 / 2015 |