As we rightly applaud the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccines, there is another significant achievement we must take notice of: the growing role of “digital health” across health and social care. The most obvious example of this is the rise in digital devices. Market leader Apple has sold over 100 million “watches” in just five years, and the latest models host a range of digital health options, from heart monitoring to an ECG app.
Such devices, unthinkable just a few years ago, have spawned a growth in health apps with services that give insights into personal healthcare that once were the domain of science fiction. Nature magazine stated a year ago that there were already 300,000 health apps, many of which focused on preventative healthcare – for example, smoking cessation.
However, apps are doing more than giving medical information; they are changing how healthcare professionals monitor, manage and reach patients, and shifting human behaviour too. A perfect example of this is the Good Smartphone Activated Medics (GoodSAM) app. Many people know GoodSAM for its incredible success in signing up an unprecedented 750,000 NHS volunteers during the first lockdown, but it is so much more than this.
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GoodSAM is already used by emergency services around the world, providing an instant help platform for emergency dispatchers and urgent care call handlers to locate the caller instantly and immediately open their smartphone camera. GoodSAM enables trained volunteers to provide a rapid response that saves lives. To illustrate this, in cardiac arrest, for example, if an individual has a heart attack on any street in the UK, the survival rate is approximately 9 per cent, but if they have a cardiac arrest at Heathrow Airport their survival rate leaps to 80 per cent. This is because there are more trained people nearby able to help them at a place like Heathrow Airport. The GoodSAM app means that wherever you are it is possible to quickly alert trained lifesavers nearby and increase the chance of survival.
This virtual approach to healthcare is not limited to apps. Across the UK, healthcare professionals are now routinely using remote telemedicine. For example, at West Herts Hospital Trust, its leading work on a “virtual hospital” model has enabled more than 3,600 people with Covid-19 to be looked after outside of the physical hospital. Not only does this mean patients have been able to be made comfortable in their own homes, but it has the added benefit of freeing up valuable NHS bed spaces on-site.
The trust’s use of an app called Medopad has also enabled patients to enter data on their symptoms, temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate and the level of oxygen in the blood. Medopad automates the results and stratifies patients according to need, which means that the multidisciplinary team can focus on those patients that would most benefit from a call, or who may need a face-to-face appointment or even a diagnostic procedure.
Beating at the heart of all of these innovations is the need for a single-patient view that connects across health and social care. Currently, the patient experience isn’t as seamless as it should be. By developing policies that connect the dots using technology across health and social care it could be possible to create patient experiences that transform healthcare for the next century and transform lives.
Dean Russell is Member of Parliament for Watford and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Digital Health
This article originally appeared in our Spotlight policy report on health and social care. Click here to see the full issue.