Chris Netherton

Chris Netherton

Managing Director, Microtest

This summer, NHS England announced that it intends to make free mobile devices and apps available to patients with illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, so that they can play a more active part in managing their condition. This is a really exciting development for eHealth in the UK.

The NHS sees this as a major opportunity to reduce patient deaths and plans to make this technology available to millions of patients in England, starting from April next year. By using technology such as this, it is believed that people could be given early warning of a possible health emergency, such as a heart attack or stroke.

Monitors attached to smartphones could track heart activity and pick up irregularities such as atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation alone affects 2.5 million people in the UK and causes around 25,000 strokes every year.

Apps can also remind people when to take their medications and potentially reduce the number of hospital admissions.

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, wants the medical profession to grab these new technologies with both hands, and commented:

“For people with diabetes or heart disease, or pregnant women or acutely ill in-patients, there’s a huge opportunity to improve the quality of care and also save money in other parts of the NHS by getting millions of new medtech devices into the hands of doctors, nurses and therapists.”

This is a move that Microtest fully supports. We have direct experience of the impact that eHealth technologies have had within the medical profession, but imagine the benefits once you give more of these tools to patients, so that they can take a really active role in the management of their own health.

One of Microtest’s key areas of expertise is in Electronic Medical Records. With the advent of these new apps the possibility exists for patients’ key health data to be constantly monitored and their medical record regularly updated with the very latest results. Then early warning systems can be built in which flag up any irregularities and would allow medical professional to deal with a developing problem before it becomes acute.

Some experts have taken it further and said that in the future, with comprehensive tracking data being fed into people’s health records, algorithms will be able to scan masses of information and help with uncovering previously undiagnosed conditions.

Even now, patients can remotely access Care Plans and with the release of the latest product from the Microtest stable, Planned.Care, patients can also remotely monitor lifestyle values like Blood Pressure, Peak Flow, Blood Glucose levels and Temperature and can remotely add these readings to their Care Plan.

With so much new data being monitored, care would be taken to avoid ‘overdiagnosis’. Also, some people will need careful coaching in the use of this type of technology; for example, for those who are overly obsessive about their health or nervous by nature, constantly monitoring their vital signs could make them more anxious or stressed.

But if we take a balanced approach in how we use this new technology and are careful in the way we teach patients how to use it, then the benefits could prove to be really amazing.

For diabetics, there are small devices available now which monitor a patient’s blood glucose levels and relay the readings to their smartphone. This makes it easy for the patient to send information to their doctor, but it also makes it much easier for the patient to monitor their own progress in managing their condition.

Another use of smartphones is that they can be used to take pictures of a medical complaint or injury and send these to a trained medical professional so that an initial diagnosis can be made.

For example, a company in the USA called Cellscope has created the Otoscope. This device attaches to a smartphone camera and allows parents to capture high quality images and video of a child’s inner ear, which can then be sent to a doctor to determine if there is a problem with an ear infection.

In the future, developments such as this could enable doctors to treat more of their patients remotely, perhaps removing some of the pressure on our overstretched GP practices. Remote diagnosis will also be of great benefit in rural areas where there are scattered remote communities such as Scotland and South West England.

Earlier this year, 25 patients at Guys’ and St Thomas’ Hospital who have been diagnosed with heart failure began taking part in an important trial. They became the first patients in London to test a smartphone monitoring system, which tracks their vital signs and transmits the data back to medical staff at the hospital. Any unusual findings can be discussed with patients and if an abnormal result is detected, then immediate action can be taken.

Martin Larner, a heart failure clinical nurse specialist at the hospital, said:

“The kit is a constant reminder to our patients that they need to change their lifestyle and take control of their health so their condition doesn’t worsen. It will help patients to monitor their condition and the system will alert our nurses when there is a problem. In this way we hope to stop patients from reaching crisis point and being admitted to hospital or visiting their GP. The monitoring kit has the potential to save many lives.”

These new technologies represent a fantastic opportunity to revolutionise the way we diagnose and treat life-threatening conditions. They also enable the patient to become a more active participant in their own healthcare. I believe they will be a massive help in the ongoing quest to shift the focus in medicine from treatment to prevention.

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