NICE reveals new standards for digital tech

NICE has published new standards setting out the requirements needed to develop digital health technologies for the NHS and speed up uptake of products like healthcare apps and wearable devices.

Working collaboratively NHS England, NICE, NHS Digital, MedCity, Public Health England and DigitalHealth.London have been engaging with industry, commissioners and innovators to understand what is required for health technology to thrive in the UK.

The resulting standards have been developed to support digital health technology development and provide guidance on what evidence is needed when innovators present their products to NHS commissioners.

“Harnessing new digital technologies could help the NHS provide better care for patients and empower them to take more control of their own health and care,” said Dr Indra Joshi, clinical lead for NHS England’s digital experience programme.

“The NHS needs to be sure any new digital tools are backed by appropriate evidence and these new standards, developed in partnership with NHS bodies, industry and academia, will be the start of that dialogue of defining what “good” looks like in digital health technologies.”

Split into two, the standards address both clinical and economic impact and what evidence is needed to develop a case for use in the NHS. They also equip commissioners so they know what information to ask for from technology developers and understand what to expect in return. This will enable the healthcare system to identify which products show promise, which ones need further development and which ones are unsuitable.

Both parts of the framework have a proportional approach to defining evidence standards. This recognises the sparsity of available evidence in the field of digital healthcare, the challenges of developing traditional clinical trials for digital health technologies, and the significant opportunities offered by digital health technologies to collect real world data to inform effectiveness judgements.

The evidence required is measured against the risk of a new technology. Embedded in the standards is a way of classifying and categorising digital health products against any potential risks they may have in how they work or for their use with patients. This ranges between a scale of 1 and 3b, the latter being the highest category. Lower categories focus on apps that provide information and advice on healthy lifestyles or collect information for personal health diaries. Higher categories can include technologies that perform clinical calculations or use data to diagnose a condition to inform decisions made by healthcare professionals.

The digital health boom shows no signs of fading and its importance to the NHS is only set to increase in the near future – a recent report revealed that the market is set to hit $379 billion by 2024, while a survey has revealed that young people are increasingly comfortable with, and expectant of, digital health solutions on the NHS, with two thirds of respondents saying they would be comfortable with a chatbot giving them a diagnosis.

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