Rethinking the Management of Long-term Health Conditions through Digital Transformation

The healthcare crisis currently gripping the NHS shows no sign of easing; and research shows that patients are seriously worried. A recent study found that people consider the state of the NHS to be the most pressing issue currently facing the country. And people with long-term health conditions are amongst those being hit hardest.

The most common long-term health conditions include diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, arthritis and hypertension. There are approximately 15 million people in England with long-term health concerns who depend on ongoing support from the NHS.

But the NHS crisis is making care more difficult to access. This is despite the fact that for many people living with long-term health conditions, healthcare is not for “emergencies only”, it’s a lifeline.

As waiting lists spiral, the NHS workforce shrinks and siloes between services grow, patients are being left out in the cold. Prescriptions are to be issued without patients communicating with their doctor first; and patients are facing delays to consultant appointments as clinicians struggle to keep up with demand. This is having a knock-on effect for patients, as they lose hope and disengage with their care. But digital transformation could offer an effective solution.

I’m a former clinician, but have worked at the forefront of digital health innovation for over a decade. During this time I have witnessed first-hand how the right digital health tools can transform the lives of patients who are living with long-term health conditions.

For example, digital health products such as apps can have a big impact when it comes to improving patient engagement with their care over the long-term. A great example of this is Klick: a digital tool we built at Avegen to improve outpatient services and empower patients living with HIV to better manage their own care. The app has driven an 80% reduction in the number of missed in-person appointments for HIV patients, which is having a demonstrable impact on the quality of care patients are receiving, and therefore patient outcomes.

Klick is also a shining example of how the right tech can help patients live independently and manage a large portion of their care remotely, whilst ensuring they still feel connected to clinicians. Digital tools like Klick can provide patients with uninterrupted virtual care through the instant communication of test results, as well as a way for patients to manage in-person appointments and complete health assessments online. Through smart digital transformation, we can give more patients an engaging way to take ownership of their care, whilst driving down costs and freeing up in-person appointments for patients in most need.

Digital tools that offer reminders and notifications to patients to take medication on time have also been widely linked to increased patient engagement and better health outcomes for patients with long-term health conditions.

The right digital tools can also support patients to manage comorbidities – such as mental health. Mental health problems are a common side effect of living with long-term health problems, with patients with chronic conditions two to three times more likely to experience mental health issues as a result. But the NHS often operates in silos, meaning treatment pathways are not designed to manage multiple different health problems at once.

Digital transformation can change this. The right tools can put remote support for comorbidities directly in the hands of patients, so they can access helpful resources on-demand wherever they are. This is already happening at South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, where the IAPT service is rolling out an app called ORBI designed to provide mental health support to patients living with long-term health conditions. The patient-facing app gives patients the tools they need to manage and monitor their health; and the secure portal for clinicians enables doctors to access real-time data and patient feedback, so they can remotely monitor their patients whilst staying connected. Tools like these can help clinicians create even more effective care pathways for the management and treatment of long-term health, powering better health outcomes. They can also ease the burden on stretched clinical teams by delivering support remotely, without sacrificing clear and consistent patient communication.

Finally, digital health products create a smart way to integrate different digital tools to provide comprehensive support and transform the management of chronic conditions. This includes the integration of different apps, wearables, VR and AI technologies to enhance the effectiveness and value proposition of traditional treatments – whether that’s a particular medication, surgery or therapy. By combining different innovative technologies to supplement in-person care, clinicians can provide individualised support and better monitor patients with long-term health needs between appointments, significantly improving the quality-of-care patients receive.

It’s clear that digital transformation has huge potential to make the day-to-day management of long-term health conditions far easier for both patients and clinicians. Not only can digitisation enhance patient engagement; but it can also drive down in-person treatment costs and ease pressure on clinicians by enabling remote care. The future of healthcare is digital; the next challenge is upping the pace of deployment and adoption for digital health tools, to widen access to impactful new technologies for all.

By Dr Nayan Kalnad, CEO and co-founder at Avegen

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