'Virtual wards' for respiratory infections backed by NICE

virtual wards

NICE has said that patients with acute respiratory infections can be cared for at home rather than in a hospital, with the help of digital platforms that transmit information on a patient's condition to their clinical team.

The 'virtual ward' technologies – based on a patient app or website, wearable medical devices, and a digital platform for healthcare professionals to review their status – can now be used more widely, said the NHS cost-effectiveness watchdog.

In a just-published early value assessment (EVA), NICE said patients aged 16 and over with an ARI can now be considered for care at home. That will allow more to be discharged early, freeing up NHS beds and reducing the cost of care to the health service.

There are a record 7.6 million people in England on the waiting list for operations or other elective treatments, with a backlog caused by the pandemic compounded by a lack of social care provision that can make it hard to discharge patients back into the community.

As with other recent judgments on digital health technologies, such as NHS use of digital weight-loss programmes, NICE is recommending that the virtual ward systems be used while more evidence is generated to support a final verdict on their value to patients and the health service.

The EVA covers 13 systems (see below), of which 11 have CE Mark approval and have passed NHS England's Digital Technology Assessment Criteria (DTAC).

  • Clinitouch (Spirit Health)
  • Current Health (Current Health)
  • Doccla Virtual Ward solution (Doccla)
  • DOC@HOME (Docobo)
  • Feebris (Feebris)
  • Huma (Huma)
  • Inhealthcare Digital Health Platform (Inhealthcare)
  • Lenus COPD Support Service (Lenus Health)
  • Luscii (Luscii Healthtech)
  • RespiraSense Hub (PMD Solutions)
  • Virtual Ward Technologies (Virtual Ward Technologies Ltd)
  • VitalPatch remote patient monitoring solution (MediBioSense Ltd)
  • Whzan Blue Box (Solcom)

Mark Chapman, interim director of medical technology and digital evaluation at NICE, said: "Evidence shows virtual wards are safe and can be an option for those who are comfortable using technology to have their condition monitored away from a hospital ward."

The decision to admit someone to a virtual ward would be made jointly by the patient and clinical team, and patients and their carers would receive training on the use of the systems, which monitor variables such as temperature, heartrate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, and respiratory rate, often automatically.

NICE's EVA points to clinical evidence that there were similar outcomes for patients who were treated in hospital compared with those on a virtual ward.

It has also estimated that the technologies could save around £872 per person compared with in-patient care, and £115 per person compared with care at home without a technology-enabled virtual ward.

Health Minister Helen Whately said that the NHS plans to create an extra 10,000 virtual ward beds by winter, alongside 5,000 hospital beds.

A consultation on the recommendations has begun, with comments being accepted until 1st September.