Dave Taylor is co-founder and COO of Bond Digital Health, a life sciences company based in Wales that develops app and cloud-based digital healthcare solutions. Here he shares his thoughts on why patients should take control of their health via technology
We are supposedly in the middle of a digital healthcare revolution, with smartphone health apps, wearable tech and other innovations transforming the way we live our lives. There are now apparently more than 318,000 health apps available on the leading app store platforms worldwide, nearly double the number available just three years ago, and some 200 more are being added every day.
Various values have been put on the global digital health market, with estimates for 2017 up to £137 billion, depending on how the figures are calculated. What analysts can agree on however is that this value is set to grow rapidly in the next five years.
Here in the UK it sometimes seems as if we are lagging behind the rest of the world in this revolution. The market for digital health in the UK is less impressive than other regions. It is currently estimated at around £2.9 billion and is estimated to hold a global market share of just seven per cent.
Digital technologies are gradually making their way into the NHS, improving patient care and reducing costs for providers, but progress is sluggish compared to other countries. The fact is the fast-paced, innovative and entrepreneurial digital industry is at odds with the slow-paced, methodical and bureaucratic NHS.
Oddly enough, both had their roots in World War 2. Although the NHS was launched in 1948 (exactly 70 years ago) it was first conceived five years earlier by Welsh Labour politician Aneurin Bevan, borne out of his long-held belief that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth.
At around the same time codebreakers Alan Turing and Tommy Flowers were creating the first ever digital technology as part of the Allied war effort to decode enemy messages. Turing’s genius in seeing that high-speed computation could crack the codes laid the groundwork for modern computing and artificial intelligence, while Flowers and his team built the Colossus, the first electronic programmable computer.
But why mention these two individuals and their achievements in this instance and why do it now? Because it’s time we started connecting the dots and – as Steve Jobs would say – they can only be connected by looking backwards. To know where we are headed, we must know our history.
And 75 years later we still haven’t connected the dots; we still haven’t got these two world-changing concepts past the hand-holding stage.
We can’t let the digital healthcare revolution pass us by in the UK. We must be proactive and radical in our approach.
At Bond Digital Health we strongly believe in patient self-management and that this represents the best way forward for the NHS. With the rising cost of healthcare and with GP surgeries getting busier by the day, we need to move past the idea that the NHS should take total responsibility, and move into patient self-management; responsibility lies with the patient now as much as it does with the health care professional.
Our co-founder Ian Bond suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and is an expert patient on the British Lung Foundation’s Patient Review Committee. He wanted to confront his condition after being diagnosed, and began tracking his symptoms, aggregating evidence and data and identifying danger points. Ian became an advocate of self-management, and together we developed a digital platform that has enabled him to monitor his own disease and obtain evidence-led care from his GP and specialists.
To put things into perspective, lung disease currently costs the UK £11bn every year in direct costs alone – just the tip of the iceberg – and is the third largest killer in the world. Lung disease patients take up the largest amount of GP time. Reducing the number of visits per year by one per patient, through digitally supported self-management, could free up 248 years of GP time to be used elsewhere. And this is just for COPD, one chronic disease of many that could be supported in this way.
Advancements in digital healthcare have the potential to transform the doctor-patient relationship and put patients in control of their own health outcomes. For example, using a combination of wearable tech, smartphone apps and cloud technology, patients with chronic health conditions will soon be able to monitor their condition and provide accurate, real-time data to their doctor. Unobtrusive wearable tech is already being developed that can monitor a patient’s health markers, such as their blood pressure, their heart rate or their glucose levels. The data gathered from this can be sent via Bluetooth to the patient’s own smartphone, analysed by an app and then transmitted via the internet to a secure, cloud-based storage platform. This information can then be accessed by healthcare practitioners, either the patient’s GP or a specialist consultant, which negates the need to see the patient in person.
This will fill in what we call the ‘clinical whitespace void’ between appointments, providing doctors with a more accurate analysis of patient data, leading to a much better standard of care and evidence-based decision-making.
By continually monitoring these vital signs, the system can even alert practitioners to any anomalies or changes in the patient’s vital signs that could indicate a health problem, allowing them to notify the patient and administer preventative treatment if necessary.
At Bond we’re working on digital systems that will put patients in control of their own health, but we know we can’t do it alone, which is why we are leading consortiums of expert partners in commerce and academia across a number of projects. If we’re to find solutions to some of the major healthcare challenges we are facing then public and private sector can no longer afford to work independently. The NHS, industry and academia must come together in partnership and start embracing the kind of innovative digital technology that will save money and more importantly save lives.
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