Innovating with what you have: Better healthcare with existing technology

Will Taylor | 25th June 2015

The healthcare industry has traditionally been slow to adopt new technologies. Despite investing heavily in diagnosis and treatment technology within hospitals (such as scanning devices and surgical robots), the uptake of tech within healthcare outside of hospitals, for use in secondary and follow-up care (such as personal smartphones and their applications) has been relatively low. This may due to patient ability or an industry aversion to early adoption, but there is another, often overlooked option available: using existing, established technology to improve patient outcomes through innovative services.

Case Study: Telephony patient service improves COPD outcomes

Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust together identified a need to help patients with severe Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) to self-manage the disease so they could live their lives more freely. Patients (usually elderly) were presenting themselves in A&E with symptoms too minor to warrant a hospital stay, or too late, with clinicians having missed an opportunity for earlier, possibly life-saving, intervention. In addition to patients living at risk, clinician time and hospital resources weren’t being used efficiently. Many patients didn’t have exposure or access to newer smart devices, and it wasn’t feasible to teach all of them how to use advanced data collecting technologies, further complicating matters. However, patients did all have access to a less modern data collection technology – the telephone. The solution was clear: automated check-up calls that link into an alert system.

Automated alerts: targeting patients with worsening systems

An award winning monitoring technology (created in partnership with Message Dynamics) calls patients twice per week. A participating patient receives a call asking five questions, ranging from; ‘how short of breath are you?’ to; ‘has your phlegm changed colour since your last check up?’ The patient responds to each question using the keypad, which feeds back to the hospital database. Any time a patient records a response which could indicate worsening symptoms, the hospital is alerted and a clinician or carer will respond with either a personal call or a home visit depending on the individual case. At this point, the clinician can authorise a new prescription or make a hospital referral. The automated system takes the burden off busy A&E departments by screening out patients who don’t need to be seen immediately, while ensuring that patients who do need attention are flagged quickly for personalised care.

Key takeaways: Cost savings, improved outcomes, and patient uptake

Aside from the obvious cost-related benefits – a Thames Valley health project report suggests that once set up, the system costs an estimated £26 per patient per year, and saves an estimated £1546 per patient, per year. In addition:

All from optimising usage of the humble telephone!

What now: Lessons for future healthcare innovation

The technologies we currently use are almost certain to play a role in our health as we grow with them. As the tech world invents and iterates at exponential rates, there is a wealth of technology around us that could be better used. When taking patient access and cost-related benefits into account, perhaps we need to spend more time looking at what we have already available to us as we develop patient support programmes. The questions asked by Message Dynamics’ COPD programme were tailored to COPD patients, but the premise of the service could be adapted across several therapy areas with little additional cost. At a time when the NHS is under-resourced, could this sort of programme be the answer to our overflowing A&E departments? Perhaps the larger lesson in the COPD programme is that while telephony won’t enthral an auditorium of conference delegates any day soon, it could save lives, and that’s the point.  

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