Digital Health

How wearable tech could transform the NHS in 2015

4th February 2015

2014 was a massive year for mHealth. StartUp Health suggest that digital health funding in the first three quarters of 2014 surpassed $5 billion – this equates to nearly double the total amount of money invested in 2013. With this level of investment flooding into the market, it’s easy to see why 2015 is going to be another monumental year for mHealth. With that in mind, we contacted Rod Mountain (ENT surgeon and Associate Postgraduate Dean) at NHS Tayside Dundee to ask him about his mHealth predictions for the year ahead.

Waracle: Hi Rod, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today, we gather you’re very busy. What are the biggest challenges facing the NHS right now?

RM: In the UK we have an ageing population, more chronic disease such as diabetes and hypertension and a larger, expanding population with complex conditions that require healthcare. This is putting an enormous burden on the NHS and its resources. Financially speaking, keeping an appropriate service is harder than ever, people are living longer and the economics of providing high quality healthcare for all is very challenging.

Waracle: It sounds like the NHS is facing some serious challenges. How can things like wearable technology help the NHS?

RM: At present, wearables are mainly being sold as “health and fitness” devices. Things like Nike Fuelband and Jawbone UP are aspirational lifestyle tools but they only really benefit the high end of the market. They’re expensive and the people that really need them aren’t able to access the technology, either because they can’t afford it or don’t understand the technology. The obesity epidemic is just one example of an area that could really be shaken up through the proliferation and use of new wearable devices. We could use a device that monitors exercise, the sleep patterns and heart rate of someone with obesity. Obese people often can have difficulty breathing properly at night time. They can suffer from sleep apnea, be low on oxygen intake during their sleep and as a consequence have high blood pressure, heart problems and feel continually tired during the day. With a prescribed wearable device the GP could monitor progress and use the data gathered over time to motivate them to see the benefits of weight loss. Wearable devices need to be brought into the NHS as a prescription, so any GP could prescribe a wearable device to help patients reduce their weight and blood pressure. These devices would be sold into the NHS and shift GP’s away from prescribing medication all the time.

Waracle: Are there conditions other than obesity where wearable could make a real impact in 2015?

RM: Yeah there are a whole bunch of areas where wearable can make a big impact within the NHS – obesity is just one of them. Take mental health as an example. Wearable devices could be used to treat patients with depression and other types of mental illness, it’s not just applicable to physical disease. There is a proven link between exercise and mental wellbeing. With mobile devices and wearable technology the patient can be linked directly to a nurse, Dr or GP to create a meaningful dialogue between the patient and their healthcare workers. This would help to actually enhance the relationship between the patient and clinician and maintain more continuity in care.

Working with the elderly and patient requiring care in the community is another area where wearable devices can have a big impact. Rather than bringing elderly people into hospital, they could be continuously monitored via a body-worn device in case they become unwell or have a fall. In the event of a change in wellness, a signal would go off to raise an alarm. Currently we have to rely on them being able to get to a phone. Body worn devices would enable the NHS to ensure elderly people are kept in their home environment for a longer period of time and help reduce the burden on hospital resources. Their body physiology could be monitored continuously at home and provide very useful information to healthcare teams looking after them at home, rather than in hospital.

Waracle: Are there any risks associated with the proliferation of mobile technology?

RM: Yes the upsides are great but there are risks to consider also. Some mobile technologies are dangerous right now as they haven’t been quality assured. As an example, there are some devices that enable the patient to take pictures of skin moles that could potentially be cancerous. The accuracy of these devices is questionable and potentially could give people a false sense of security. I think that the NHS needs to embrace these new technologies and conduct proper academic trials prior to their adoption.

Rodney Mountain is ENT surgeon and Associate Postgraduate Dean at NHS Tayside. Mr Mountain is heavily involved in healthcare design and IT technologies that empower individuals, groups and institutions with medical data.

Waracle has developed mHealth applications for the NHS, Imperial College London and global pharmaceutical companies. If you’re a clinician, or work in healthcare, or are simply interested in how mobile technology can impact your business, contact Waracle today.

We’d also like to say an enormous thank you to Max Little, Visiting Assistant Professor at the world renowned MIT, who said this about the fantastic work Waracle team have been doing in mHealth:

“I’m impressed by the very professional app that you produced for the pharmaceutical industry, it is working superbly and it has opened up opportunities for medical data analysis that we have not had the opportunity to examine before, in particular the wealth of continuous and reliable sensor data collected. I can be pretty confident that your clients will want to expand on this effort. I know that one of the problems here is making a viable business out of what might be considered to be a ‘niche’ market. I’m not sure what the solution is, but as you say, there does seem to be growing interest in ‘repurposing’ consumer devices for health and research, e.g. Apple ResearchKit and now Google’s efforts, similarly also Samsung and Microsoft. A lot will be driven by the need to expand the range of sensors in the hardware to e.g. continuous vital signs monitoring, but it seems that these giants are on the case already.”

Contact us today if you’re interested in developing apps for mHealth.

Check out our findings in relation to the phenomenal ROI of apps in mHealth:

“We’ve discovered that mobile apps in drug trials are significantly optimising the frequency, quality and volume of data. In addition, mobile apps are having a seismic impact on completion rates and patient adherence. In terms of the numbers, we’ve witnessed completion rates increase from just over 50% (with no accompanying mobile app) to over 80% when an app is used in direct conjunction with a clinical trial. We estimate that on average it costs pharmaceutical companies £20,000 for every participant in a clinical trial. This actually signifies a cost saving of more than £1 million for pharmaceutical companies for every drugs trial that’s conducted. If we consider that this provides a saving of over £1 million for each drugs trial, this actually represents a 10x ROI for pharma companies who adopt the use of mobile apps using a data driven project methodology.”

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