Self-care’ could potentially save the NHS as the health of frail and elderly people are monitored remotely.
In January NHS England announced seven test beds that would see health care workers pioneering innovative ways to use interconnected devices to allow people to manage their conditions in their own homes.
Lancashire and Cumbria Innovation Alliance (LCIA) was chosen for one of the trials, which will see frail and elderly people living with long-term conditions targeted.
“The most ill and frail people in Lancashire and Cumbria account for three per cent of the population but they account for 55 per cent of health system costs,” says Glyn Jones, innovation programme manager for the LCIA.
The programme will involve prescribing different technologies to assist up to 1,600 patients. For those most at risk this will include wearables such as blood pressure cuffs, heart rate monitors and scales that record weight and transmit the reading via Bluetooth.
Users will record these measurements and they will be set to clinicians, who will be alerted if anything out of the ordinary occurs, such as unusual weight gain.
For low-risk patients there will be a series of apps where they can record how they are feeling, for example.
The types of technology used are nothing new, Jones says, but methods such as video conferencing will allow people to stay comfortable in their own homes rather than having to make a journey to hospital for appointments.
“People who have a long-term lung condition, for example, might feel breathless and their carer might ring the ambulance, but that’s probably not necessary in many cases,” Jones says.
“It could be that they’ve used an approach that relaxes them when it’s happened before and they could look back at an app where they’ve recorded such instances.
“We’re providing the opportunity to put some additional steps between them making a phone call to their GP or to 999.”
However Andrew Owens, a cardiothoracic surgeon and director of innovation at South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust, says the ‘home monitoring’ approach should be balanced with patients’ need for the social side of healthcare.
“Home monitoring is fine but patients lose the camaraderie of coming into hospital – there is a cost saving and a saving in travel time, but we need to do some research into where the social side is important and where it’s not,” he added.
A digital revolution is occurring in healthcare: wearable tech, 3D printing and the increased presence of telecare are pieces of a health jigsaw slowly taking shape as the sector comes under pressure to be more efficient and spread innovation.