Mhealth is outpacing the rate at which the NHS can realise technology
Mhealth, also known as digital health or e-health has really taken off with the public – wearable devices, health apps and access to clinic information has become huge business. The simple use of e-health means patients do not have to take time off work, pay to park their car, sit in a busy waiting room, and repeat this two or three times a month. Using an e-health service means patients are more engaged with their own health and hospital visits are reduced meaning clinics can realise huge efficiency savings.
However, the challenge is that the public’s use of e-health is massively outpacing the rate at which the UK health system is realising technology. Members of society now run their lives via digital means, and the increasing use of wearables and apps shows that the appetite for digital enabled lifestyles includes health and well-being. The challenge this pace creates is that lots of data sets are being created but the connection between the data and clinical decision making is weak.
How can the NHS really make the most out of mhealth?
Mhealth will only save money if the data created by apps and devices is aggregated and used appropriately to support clinical decision making. Mhealth is the same as e-finance and e-shopping – it’s aimed at changing the way we behave – in this case, our behaviours in managing our own health. If we are all able to manage our health better, whether individually or in conjunction with our doctors the system will undoubtedly save money and, with the scale of health spending hitting billions globally this is certainly desirable.
To support the health and wellbeing data sets that are being created, apps, devices and web sites need to sit behind an aggregator that is properly governed. The NHS cloud (N3), for example, has the ability to aggregate the data so the right data gets to the right person, in the right format, at the most appropriate time. This approach really does support good clinical decision making as doctors don’t have to trawl through huge data sets, but have the right summary available to them. They also have the knowledge that, should they need more in depth data, or data from other apps or devices, they can pull them up via the same single aggregator.
Getting data in one end, aggregating safely and securely and then injecting it directly into clinical systems, is the only way to sensibly drive mass use. There is a risk that we will see lots of these aggregators developed at local levels. While this supports local health economies, it misses the wider aim of e-health. The public is mobile; people commute, travel worldwide, and use different healthcare providers at different times. They are no longer tethered to their local GP or hospital, they have choice, and increasingly make use of that choice. Therefore, a single and universal aggregator for the entire NHS is far more desirable. It would offer a quality assurance framework to the many app and content developers who struggle to understand the different rules, and it would offer a route to market which would stimulate further development.