The global digital health market is estimated to grow by £27-47billion over the course of the next three years.
Already, software and product developers are rushing to fill a demand in well-developed healthcare markets for a whole host of e-products and services designed to enhance patient care whilst at the same driving down on unnecessary trips to the GP and reducing hospital admissions.
Scotland is no exception and it is estimated that the number of people aged over 75 is likely to have increased by almost 65 per cent by 2032; as a result technology companies are being engaged to come up with novel solutions to better manage current and future demands on primary and acute healthcare services.
Academic studies thus far have been cautious as to the positive impacts of such developments as ‘telehealth’ in patient homes – systems or devices which allow patients to monitor their conditions and transmit the information back to healthcare professionals.
The Whole System Demonstrator trial, the largest study undertaken thus far, and commissioned by the Department of Health, did find that of the 3,000 patients who agreed to take part those receiving telehealth interventions had fewer emergency hospital admissions compared with those who received usual care.
But the cost per patient, worked out £180 per patient cheaper for the telehealth route, was not statistically significant, so it could have been caused by chance.
Never the less, the virtual stampede for e-health is underway. Already regional NHS boards are taking up the tech challenge, and the fact that innovation centres such as the Digital Health Institute – established by NHS24, the University of Edinburgh and Glasgow School of Art – now exist, is evidence of buy-in at the highest level.
The ways in which technology is used by the 14 health boards across the country are by no means uniform; various factors including regional demographics, urban/rural split, deprivation indicators as well as availability and awareness will no doubt influence what is taken up.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the technology solutions being deployed across the country:
- In Dumfries and Galloway, whiteboards for hospital bed management have been replaced by electronic display screens, with staff using iPads to communicate with the system, while out in the community e-pens are replacing pen and paper as a mode of recording patient data and transmitting it back to base.
- NHS Highland has adopted smartphone technology which allows Chron’s Disease sufferers to diarise their symptoms and transmit the information back to specialists in inflammatory bowel conditions, thanks to funding from the charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK. The system, developed by Open Brolly, allows information to be collected from an app and sent to a dashboard system, and secured the Forres-based firm a Scottish Life Sciences award last year.
- Using Google Maps, NHS North Lanarkshire has created a simple locator service for the elderly and their carers to pinpoint voluntary services around them. It has also developed a text message service to interact with heart failure patients. The health board has also adopted a wearable satellite tracking device, pictured, which allows dementia sufferers to be located if their memory fails and they lose their way.
- NHS Ayrshire & Arran use ‘telehealth pods’ – developed by Medvivo – that patients are given to monitor their own heart rate, blood pressures and weights. Patients receive an appropriate device to measure different conditions – for example blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters or a set of scales – and the data is transmitted via Bluetooth to a Samsung tablet, which is then relayed on a daily basis back to the healthcare specialist. The digital pilot has led to a fall in hospital admissions with one general practice reporting a 70 per cent reduction. A system of alerts indicating weight loss or a drop in oxygen levels allows clinicians to determine when an intervention may be needed.
- NHS Fife has become the first health board in the country to install IP webcams in the cots of premature babies – so parents can view their children on tablets in real-time from the comfort of their hospital room. The Victoria Hospital in Fife was also the first in the UK to use the ‘mylittleone’ application, which transmits a secure live video stream to tablets. The technology was developed by HealthAlert24, a company based in Ashford, Kent, specialising in telehealth and telecare services.