Mubaloo’s Alana Saunders tells us why the NHS needs to embrace mobile technology in order to provide a fuller service to patients
In the UK each year, more than 19 million appointments are missed across NHS services. This is just one of the continued issues facing healthcare providers, you only need to look at the news to see the other challenges being faced, especially as the Government aims to move to a 7-day service.
There is a massive disconnect between the impact smartphones have on our daily lives and how we interact with healthcare providers. It’s understandable that the NHS has been wary to fully embrace mobile, there are countless stories of failed IT initiatives going wildly over budget.
There are currently more than 100,000 mobile health apps in app stores around the world, with more than four million free downloads every day. UK consumers have also shown to be among the most smartphone savvy in the world, leading on mobile shopping, app usage and smartphone penetration.
The British landscape ticks all of the boxes for embracing mHealth: broadband internet, high penetration of mobile devices and a well-developed, educated society and social environment. The NHS has made some promising steps forward in this space, having released guidance on developing mobile healthcare apps, which includes protocols for security.
The NHS also runs a Health Apps Library, created to help patients discover NHS-reviewed apps that are clinically safe. As part of this review process, the NHS verifies that the apps comply with the Data Protection Act and use patients’ information appropriately.
Despite this, there are some pressing questions: why is this not commonly used? Why is it that so many appointments are missed, when mobile could be better utilised? Why is it that more isn’t done to help address pre-care issues? And, most importantly, how are we meant to have a 7-day NHS when so many issues continue to be present?
Research suggests that chronic conditions will impose an even larger health burden on societies across Europe in the future. A growing epidemic of chronic illnesses across the UK and Europe shows the need for innovative, efficient, technology-supported interventions. Mobile health apps form a key part of this. Mobile health apps are, according to Darrell West, founding director of the Centre for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution, “an essential tool in extending healthcare resources”.
A primary challenge – and an important overhead for hospitals – is accessing patient data. Records are still largely stored on paper and, when they are not, data is stored in silo computer systems: the endoscopy department will have its own system to hold all of the patient endoscopy information, while the oncology department will have its own, separate system. The patient records held by GP surgeries are also not shared with secondary care facilities.
Healthcare workers rarely see the full picture when it comes to the patient’s full medical history. Apps can connect the dots by unifying medical records between the various healthcare channels and departments, acting as a central repository for laboratory results, medical notes and much more.
Remote management of chronic conditions through mobile health apps can deliver significant cost savings to the public health system in the UK. Each time a patient avoids going to see their GP, because he or she has received care remotely, can result in thousands of pounds in cost savings for primary care trusts.
This is supported by a study published by management consultants PwC for GSMA, which estimates that mobile health could help cut healthcare costs by up to $400bn across developed countries by 2017.
Although the benefits of mobile health apps and devices are many, there are still user adoption challenges. Many healthcare professionals still need to be convinced of the benefits of mobile health. According to a recent study by The Economist, in association with SAP, nearly half (49 per cent) of healthcare leaders think consumer wariness about privacy violations could be a stumbling block for adoption, while just over half (51 per cent) say data privacy risks are their biggest concern.
And yet, 26.2 million people in the UK freely share personal information with Facebook every day in return for ‘free’ access to social networking. Whilst personal health information is infinitely more sensitive, is it better that providers, such as the NHS control the apps patients use, or that they use apps from third party app developers, where data may be at more risk, or not accessible to healthcare professionals?
This week, Google X announced that it is testing a new wearable designed for monitoring and reporting information continuously for medical researchers and professionals. The wearable monitors pulse, heart rhythm, skin temperature, light exposure and noise levels, helping to provide data about the patient and their surroundings.
Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS Medical Director of the NHS indicated his support of wearables during an interview with The Guardian late last year, saying that wearables “enables you to predict things, to act early and to prevent unnecessary admissions, thereby not only taking a load off the NHS but, more importantly, actually keeping somebody safe and feeling good.”
So the signs are there that at a top level, the NHS understands the need to utilise mobile devices, such as smartphones and wearables, more effectively. Of course, there are numerous challenges to overcome, but the world is moving forward and so too must the organisations that deliver care. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Not because it helps us do things more easily, but because they will help to provide better care, better preventative treatment and better health for all of us.
Alana Saunders is mobile strategy consultant at Mubaloo
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