Connecting our community to digital healthcare, we caught up with Liz-Ashall Payne, CEO of ORCHA. Read more about her thoughts on the future of Digital Health products and the latest happenings within ORCHA.

In 1989, the UK’s first virtual bank, First Direct, famously aired a TV ad in which they claimed to be communicating across time, from 2010, twenty-one years into the future. Their message was, online banking is the future.

This pivotal campaign shook up high street banking because it opened our eyes to alternatives. And in just the same way, we are now at a pivotal moment in healthcare.

The pandemic has shown, beyond doubt, that digital tools can play a key role in the delivery of healthcare. According to a BMJ report, in the first weeks of lockdown searches for digital health products increased by 343%. Nine out of ten medical condition areas saw an increase in searches.

Embedded in care pathways, digital tools can educate, monitor symptoms, encourage medication adherence, diagnose conditions, provide mental health support and much more. A body of evidence proving their worth is building. Breathing apps can correct 98% of inhaler errors. Epilepsy apps have been shown to reduce seizures by 60%. Pre-eclampsia apps have saved the NHS £1700 per patient.

Sixty-five percent of healthcare professionals believe health apps will encourage patients to take more responsibility for their health (Research Now). Coincidentally, 65% of consumers say they’d be willing to use health apps to help the NHS (OnePoll, 2021).

At ORCHA we’re now working in many NHS regions across the UK and with an increasing number of Integrated Care Systems. Our libraries of high-quality digital health tools are helping healthcare staff both to improve patient outcomes and save the NHS money.

Whilst there is so much positive news to report, the truth is that we are being held back because some fundamental infrastructure is not yet in place – and this is essential in order to build trust in the system.

The best way to explain what we mean by infrastructure for digital health is to compare this to the set-up for prescription medications. Medicines are approved and licenced by the MHRA and evaluated by NICE. They are then collated by the British National Formulary, which details indications and contraindications. Electronic prescribing is now available and there are systems to monitor drug recalls. Plus, the cornerstone to all this is training in which products to prescribe.

Yet none of this infrastructure exists for 365,000 digital health technologies, with 250 new products coming on to the market on a daily basis and only 20% reaching quality thresholds (based on ORCHA thresholds).

One could argue that medications carry a greater risk of adverse events and need these robust procedures, but is this true when we think about apps that address suicide, addictions, eating disorders, self-monitoring of long-term conditions, or advice for treatment?

So, are we expecting digital health to flourish and complement, enhance or even replace traditional care without any of this enabling infrastructure layer?

We must have the infrastructure in place, through standards and frameworks, which define the threshold for quality and impact. We need the ability to assess at pace and the scale to build a critical mass of products, a formulary that clinicians can prescribe from and a system to track the delivery, with safety recall in place and adverse event reporting. ORCHA has been championing all this for over six years and continues to do so.

We’ve also been championing training for all healthcare staff in how to use digital tools and are pleased to be launching, with support from Boehringer Ingelheim, the UK’s first online and free Digital Health Training Academy.

The NHS long-term plan, the What Good Looks Like paper and, most recently, the independent review of digital health within the NHS by Laura Wade-Gery all talk strategically about the importance of digital and this is most welcome.

But if our future selves were looking back into 2022, our message would surely be: digital will transform the delivery of healthcare but you have to build it on firm foundations – and you have to start now.

Liz Ashall-Payne is founding CEO of ORCHA, the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps.

Join Liz along with 60+ speakers at the HETT Leading Healthcare Innovation Summit taking place at the QEII Centre London on the 9th February 2022. Register today!

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