A digital health pilot in Moray will seek to put data in patients’ hands – in a bid to address local pressure points on health and social care delivery.

Clinicians are advocating the creation of a ‘personal data store’ for patients, whereby they can more easily share their information with health and care professionals.

The local project aims to drive a ‘fundamental change in approach to health and social care that will see the public taking proactive responsibility for their own health and wellbeing through control and sharing of relevant linked data across all aspects of their lives’.

Health and social care partners involved in the project say possible applications of technology include the use of a ‘data cloud’ to securely store patients’ personal data and create more streamlined and efficient access to integrated services such as GP appointments, routine blood tests, or referrals. 

The tech would also make it easier for unpaid carers – often relatives with sole care responsibilities – to help loved ones living with health conditions access the services they need when they need them. The project has been green-lit due to

Dr Malcolm Simmonds, a Forres-based GP Partner and GP Clinical Lead for Moray said: “Our frustrations are our patient’s frustrations. We want our patients to be able to access our services easily and have timely access to hospital and secondary care tests and treatments, and we don’t want their health to deteriorate whilst waiting on NHS waiting lists. We want to provide as much access as possible and offer a range of services in a variety of different ways, but our capacity is finite and there has been under-investment in GP services, infrastructure, and premises over many years.” 

He added: “The development of the personal data store has the potential to overcome several significant practical difficulties patients, families, GPs, carers, and other professionals face when trying to share information that is used to optimise the care provided to an individual. With the person controlling who has access to their information, the individual can choose to share their information with everyone who is important to them, thereby allowing health and care teams to communicate more effectively, improving care for the individual at the centre of this model. 

“This will also allow the individual to communicate more easily and effectively with those involved in their care, access information about their health; test results and treatment; and access information online and in their local area that helps support their health and wellbeing. In the future, everyone could have access to this technology, allowing phone or tablet real time access to results, health information and advice with up to date information about local resources and services that might help deal with health problems or encourage a healthier lifestyle.” 

The project is going ahead thanks to the £5 million UK Government-funded Rural Centre of Excellence for Digital Health and Care Innovation (RCE) – a health and social care focused research and development project launched in 2021 as part of the Moray Growth Deal. It was set up to identify and deliver digital tech innovations that will help improve the delivery of health and social care by making services more accessible, equitable, and person-centric.

The project is led by Scotland’s Digital Health and Innovation Centre (DHI), a world-leading collaboration hosted by the University of Strathclyde in collaboration with The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and financed by the Scottish Government and Scottish Funding Council. Under the scheme, patients will be encouraged to join a series of ‘living labs’ where new innovations will be tested.

Janette Hughes, director of planning & performance, DHI, said: “This is about real-world testing of digital applications that could make a massive difference in the delivery of health and social care in rural settings. It’s a huge opportunity for Moray and the North of Scotland to put a pin in the map allowing citizens’ voices to be heard, and in turn build a strong research platform, which will attract industry and with it the potential for new jobs and investment.

“By joining the citizen panel and participating in these living labs, members of the public across Moray can potentially be involved in and then feel the benefits of these services personally, as well as contributing to a better future for health and social care in Scotland and beyond. It’s a once in a lifetime project they can be a central part of it.” 

Simon Bokor Ingram, chief officer for the Moray Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “In the main, digital creates a level playing field in terms of access. Elgin is a long way from Raigmore, Aberdeen, and the Central Belt, and rural poverty – primarily around transport and proximity – is a real issue. Progressing the digital agenda can become a solution. 

“Covid changed the way people are willing to access healthcare, and there is more acceptance of services being delivered in different ways. By creating access to services that can be delivered digitally through those mediums, we can cut waiting lists and reduce the need for unnecessary travel. There could be no need to travel to Aberdeen for routine appointments, blood test results could be delivered digitally through the app. 

“This is not about replacing face-to-face contact, it’s about delivering services that can be delivered digitally through those mediums so there can be greater access to in person contact where it is needed.”