Tuesday 19th May 2020
In my last blog, I discussed the importance of capturing key learnings from Phase 1 of NHS England's COVID-19 response and looked at ways in which we could use these learnings to support us in delivering the NHS Long Term Plan.
In my analysis, I assessed how innovative treatments have helped to streamline pathways to reduce hospital stays, reducing patients risk of contracting COVID-19 and freeing up hospital resources. Amongst the technological advancements seen during the outbreak are technologies which will reduce hospital admissions and empower patients with resources with which they can manage their conditions. These resources will be crucial as we move to the next phase and beyond, helping to manage patient interaction with tertiary centres and throughout primary care networking, and increasing capacity to work through backlogs caused by COVID-19.
A University of Birmingham study has revealed that as a result of the pandemic, over 28 million elective surgeries across the globe could be cancelled. In the UK, estimates suggest that cancelling elective surgeries for twelve weeks will result in 516,000 cancelled surgeries. These cancellations will create a backlog after the COVID-19 disruption ends, and pathways now need to be rethought to ensure the local foundations can maximise their capacity to work through the backlog efficiently.
The National Audit Office recently published a report on digital transformation within NHS before COVID-19. The report revealed that before the pandemic uptake of digital services has been slow, expensive, and largely unsuccessful. Although damning, the report highlights a growing recognition of the importance of technology in creating a more cost-effective and time-efficient health service. We are now seeing examples of technology utilised across the healthcare landscape to manage patients remotely and maximise our capacity to treat and care safely and effectively.
Digital technology has already been crucial in helping manage vulnerable patients amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. In a recent Med Tech Group statement, the use of at-home safety-monitoring for chemotherapy and the piloting of a skin cancer community assessment development were highlighted. These developments have helped patients access diagnosis and treatment while social distancing measures are in place, and can now be used to level out demand when measures are relaxed.
However, as the MedTech Group stated, there is another – equally significant role – for Medtech amidst the outbreak and as we move into the next phase of response: it's potential to reduce hospitalisations and help individual patients self-monitor their condition. However, this beneficial change needs to be locked in long-term, and we need to harness this digital transformation and move forward with it. TheNHS Long Term Plan states that "we will speed up the pipeline for developing innovations in the NHS, so that proven affordable changes get to patients faster" - and the time for this is now.
At Heart Valve Voice, we have been concerned by the reduction in cardiac admissions throughout COVID-19 response. We have been encouraging all valve disease patients to use our symptom tracker to monitor their symptoms daily. However, we've realised that we cannot stop at an online resource. To truly empower our patients, streamline pathways and reduce the impact on tertiary and primary care networks, we need to create an immediate resource. One that is easily accessible and gives patients and clinicians a tool to chart their condition.
In the coming weeks, with the help of patients and clinicians, we will develop an interactive app which patients and clinicians can use during their valve disease journey. The app will have a consultation guide, information on heart valve disease and, crucially, our symptom tracker. We will empower patients with a journal that will track the development of their symptoms, which can then be used to determine their treatment pathways. The app will be with the patient from diagnosis to recovery and will be a resource that will have a lasting impact on the cardiovascular landscape.
I’ve recognised the need for an app since the feedback from Gold Standard Taskforce mentioned use of digital technology in empowering patients. This was strengthened before the outbreak at a roundtable with Health Innovation Manchester, where we discussed how technology could improve services, waiting lists and treatment times.
The COVID19 pandemic has given an opportunity to move technology forward and now is the time to implement these developments. We have a world-leading health technology industry in this country and if we move forward with this digital transformation we can build a stronger, more efficient, health service for patients.