The COVID-19 outbreak has the entire nation interacting digitally like never before. Huge numbers of the population have rapidly moved to home working, consumers are inclined more than ever to access services online, and we’re embracing digital communication tools to stay connected. Dr Ian Wood takes a look at how this unexpected digital evolution might inspire an uptake in digital therapeutics.
Dr Ian Wood: GP, EMIS Health clinical director and Big Health clinical lead
The need to deliver services in a different way during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to greater collaboration, resulting in unprecedented digital transformation across the healthcare sector. Professionals and patients alike have discovered, embraced and championed new ways of engaging with healthcare, and it’s hard to imagine the landscape will ever be the same again. As some industries find themselves unable to deliver services by traditional methods, digital solutions are beginning to fill these gaps and are finding a platform on which to shine.
Digital therapeutics are a rapidly growing field of evidence-based tools to help patients manage their health. These interventions, often in the form of apps, can help support patients with a wide range of physical and mental health conditions and can be a powerful mechanism for significant, positive behavioural change. From assistance with medication dosage and timing, to applications that encourage healthy diet and lifestyle, right through to more complex simulation software for the treatment of ADHD, this relatively new field of healthcare technology has the potential to make big waves when it comes to personalised care.
One truly exciting element of digital therapeutics is the ability to make these tools instantly available and accessible to communities at scale. Take for example a patient suffering with insomnia. Where it’s even available in the UK, there will likely be a long waiting list to see one of a handful of appropriately trained Cognitive Behavioural Therapists. With a digital therapeutic like Sleepio delivering strongly evidence-based, gold standard CBT, one click means the patient is empowered with the means to instantly access life changing treatment from their device. If a large proportion of the population is managed in this manner, we in turn slim down face-to-face appointment waiting lists for those whose needs cannot be met through the program, allowing those patients to access the further care they need much sooner.
As clinicians, we can use these tools to help patients manage their condition within their own environment, free from the traditional constraints of time, accessibility and even stigma. These solutions not only help patients to manage current conditions but can encourage preventative measures and behaviours to reduce or eliminate further complications down the line. Recognising the opportunity to leverage the greater engagement we all have with our devices has enabled clinicians and developers to create a familiar and comfortable method of embedding behavioural change to improve all aspects of our health.
Accessing reliable support
Digital therapeutics is a growing market, but it can be difficult to distinguish these tools from the expanse of health and wellbeing apps flooding the digital healthcare landscape. The key differentiator here is the clinical evidence base that supports these new modes of therapeutic intervention. The clinical standards, formulary and framework for these medical devices needs to be on a level with their pharmaceutical counterparts. The reward for that work means we will enable and empower clinicians to make better informed recommendations, promoting digital therapeutics that can quickly and safely transform lives with long lasting effects.
The EMIS App Library provides access to reliable digital therapeutics that have been reviewed using the NHS Digital Assessment Questions framework against criteria such as effectiveness, security, clinical safety, data protection and accessibility. As this landscape takes shape, the library gives me the confidence as a GP to recommend tools to patients that I know meet these core standards and primarily are clinically fit for purpose. Pressingly and helpfully, these solutions can be particularly effective during this time of crisis in helping support isolated patients to manage their conditions.
As digital technologies continue to evolve at pace, it’s not hard to imagine the ways in which these tools might evolve in time; developing integration capabilities with other platforms, pulling data from wearables and devices and feeding directly into patient records. I’m excited to see what the future holds, but I’m confident that the solutions already available can make a huge impact for both patients and clinicians in the way we provide care in our new digital age.
EMIS Health are a UK leader in connected healthcare software and services. Through innovative IT, they’re giving healthcare professionals access to the information they need to provide better, faster and cheaper care.
Dr Ian Wood
GP, EMIS Health Clinical Director and Big Health Clinical Lead