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Could apps be the answer for long-term care

Tagged In:  Career Advice

Advanced software programs and other digital tools are set to transform the management of long-term health conditions for millions of patients.

With increasing strain on our healthcare system from an ageing population, transferring care from hospital to community has become a key priority to save money and reduce pressure on overstretched resources.

So, how do you empower patients to manage their conditions safely and effectively, while also maintaining vital direct contact with doctors and nurses? As with so many things in our modern world, the answer seems to be advanced technology. That's why the NHS has been trialling and endorsing a number of apps that help people manage a range of long-term conditions, including diabetes, arthritis and heart disease.

Two of the latest medical apps to be developed are currently being trialled in four hospitals in Oxfordshire. The first is GDm-health, which helps manage the treatment of gestational diabetes, a condition that affects one in 10 pregnant women in the UK. The other is EDGE-COPD, a software system for the management of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which affects an estimated 1.2 million people. In a 12-month clinical trial, the app reduced hospital admissions by 17% and GP visits by 40%.

MyCOPD, another NHS-approved COPD management app, is already being used by patients in 22 clinical commissioning group (CCG) areas across the UK. The Department of Health estimates that it saved the NHS between £200,000 and £300,000 in its first year of use. 

Health monitoring apps offer a range of features. Patients can assess and track their symptoms, keep diaries and learn techniques for self-administering medication or treatment, for example understanding the correct way to use an inhaler. Data can be shared directly with clinicians through an online interface, enabling the doctor or nurse to respond with timely interventions or to schedule an appointment for a face-to-face consultation if they think it's necessary.

According to the King's Fund, there are over 15 million people in the UK with long-term health conditions. Treatment and care for these people is estimated to account for £7 in every £10 of total health and care expenditure. COPD alone costs the NHS more than £800 million each year, while MyCOPD costs a fraction of that (around £20 per patient).

"For people with diabetes or heart disease, or pregnant women or acutely ill in-patients, there’s a huge opportunity to improve the quality of care and also save money in other parts of the NHS by getting millions of new medtech devices into the hands of doctors, nurses and therapists," said NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens at the NHS Confederation Conference in 2016. "Now, at a time when the NHS is under pressure, rather than just running harder to stand still, it’s time to grab with both hands these practical new treatments and technologies."

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