The role of innovative healthcare technology
May 5, 2022
Innovative technology can support pressured health systems and improve outcomes, but it needs to be easy to use and meet a need
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a perfect storm in the NHS with fewer patients being treated during the first wave, treatments being postponed, fewer being referred into elective care, plus delays and backlogs in social care. Long standing workforce shortages within the NHS have compounded the pressure.
The lack of a robust and sustainable workforce plan, with specific targets to help the NHS back on its feet, has already been highlighted by some. Amongst those calling for greater clarity are former NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens and fellow peer Baroness Cumberlege. The Kings Fund, meanwhile, points out that there has been no NHS national workforce strategy since 2003 and that a fully funded plan is urgently needed, describing the workforce crisis as a key limiting factor in post COVID-19 recovery.
Healthtech can reduce pressure and improve patient outcomes
It is worth remembering that since the last workforce strategy was published the landscape has changed significantly. Innovation and the rapid growth in med tech, software, AI and apps now have much greater potential to make an impact by reducing pressures on both hospital-based and community care, as well as improving patient outcomes. In turn, this could relieve some of the burden on a workforce that is desperate for respite.
A couple of examples show the potential impact med tech, software and apps can have. First, with remote consultations and monitoring to enable safe care in the home, particularly for those with chronic conditions. For example, the introduction of home pulse oximeter, with measurements sent automatically to NHS staff, ensured some COVID-19 patients could avoid hospital admission, only needing to be admitted if their oxygen levels started dropping.
Wearables and remote monitoring have provided the means for health professionals to spot the early signs that a patient’s health may be deteriorating and put in place the changes and support needed to avoid hospital care. Falls technology uses predictive algorithms and real-time data inputs to predict when a person is likely to suffer a fall, ensuring that preventative measures can be put in place, reducing pressures on hospitals, and creating a healthier environment and lifestyle for the patient.
Remote patient monitoring can reduce patient re-referrals
Technicare’s Advanced Risk Modelling for Early Detection (ARMED) technology, for example, helped NHS Dumfries and Galloway Pulmonary Rehabilitation Service reduce patient re-referrals to its six-week exercise and education programme for COPD patients, through remote monitoring of the daily activity levels of patients who completed the scheme. Jason Harries CEO of Technicare says: “In Scotland we have shown the potential for our technology coupled with a predictive algorithm to be used across the health system and our latest project with urgent community referrals in Nottinghamshire is another example.”
A second area where innovation is showing great potential is in digital therapeutics (or medicines) – a vital tool in providing much needed support to patients with anxiety, depression, and insomnia. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance recommends talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) above medication, but with a waiting list of more than one million, the demand for this far outweighs capacity.
Big Health’s Daylight and Sleepio evidence-based digital self-help programmes, that include therapeutics such as CBT, can provide GPs with an accessible, effective, and immediate alternative solution for their patients. Studies show that using Big Health’s digital therapeutics, 76 per cent of patients achieve clinical improvement in insomnia and 71 per cent achieve clinical improvement in anxiety. While digital therapeutics may not be universally adopted, they are already helping thousands of people across the country, which in turn is releasing face to face capacity for those who need it most.
What does healthtech need for adoption?
Although just two examples, these highlight the potential impact innovation in technology and software can have in healthcare. The challenge we face is that the innovation must be easily adopted and meet a need. In other words, it must make an existing process or procedure more straightforward and less time-consuming. That means busy frontline NHS staff must not only see the benefit but will be prepared to learn how to use the innovation and then adopt it.
For patients, any innovation must be easy to use and make a measurable impact on their lives. We know that there are age factors at play, however the adoption of technology by the over 65s has grown in the last decade and there is significant potential.
Making sure that innovations and technology advances can be scaled up is a further challenge facing any healthcare system. It appears the NHS still does not have the answer to widespread adoption once a clinical evidence base has been established and this could yet be the biggest obstacle we face.
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