Digital health round-up: NHS needs more apps, says health secretary

The UK’s new health secretary Matt Hancock has again backed use of apps on the NHS, after saying that better use of technology is one of his priorities in his new job.

Hancock told the BBC’s Newsbeat that there is “loads to do on that” area, as he gave more details about plans to transform children and young people’s mental health services.

Formerly secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Hancock started his job early this month following Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle.

He told Newsbeat: “One of the things I’ve done in different parts of government is make sure that it’s more tech savvy and digital.”

“The NHS needs to be more convenient for you, but also to help clinicians so that doctors’ and nurses’ lives are easier.”

Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock

App to replace pagers

Hancock has already praised a new app called Medic Bleep, which aims to save a hospital millions by improving communication between clinical staff.

In a speech at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, Hancock said that improved use of technology would be one of his main priorities.

He referred to the project at the hospital – an app that has enabled doctors and nurses to throw away antiquated pager technology in favour of a smartphone app.

Medic Creations, the health technology that designed Medic Bleep, said the app saves nurses more than 20 minutes per shift, and doctors more than 50 minutes per shift.

The easier communication between members of the care teams has improved operational efficiency and patient outcomes.

The trust already estimates potential savings of £4.5 million per year by freeing up the equivalent of 18 full time nurses, 18 full time junior doctors, and reducing litigation by up to 21% due to poor inter-team communications.

Changing the way that staff communicate with each other could save the NHS around £1 billion a year in operational benefits by reducing time wasted and improving operational efficiency, according to Medic Creations.

This could be achieved through managing increases in demand and reducing the number of cancelled operations.

The technology has already proved itself in a time and motion study at West Suffolk, thanks to several key improvements over conventional pagers.

Senders can write a text message with all required information, and see when it has been delivered and read, this prevents workflow disruption as staff no longer had to wait by a phone.

It also reduced medical errors through clear written instructions and clarifications, and has a better audit trial than a pager-based system.

Medic Creations’ founder and CEO, Dr Sandeep Bansal, said: “By adopting this modern smartphone app which provides a secure method of communication between staff, many of the communications challenges experienced using legacy systems will be resolved.”

“Following the success of the pilot my team are now working collaboratively with the staff at West Suffolk Foundation Trust Hospital on a trust-wide implementation.”

Doctors and social services call for reform of My Health Record

A government-run scheme in Australia that aims to provide a single health record for all citizens has run into serious trouble.

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull last week publicly backed the scheme on aradio show – but has now signalled that it needs refinements to allay concerns about privacy.

As it stands the system is based around an “opt-out” system, and there have been calls for new legislation to require law enforcement agencies to get warrants before accessing the information.

There have also been calls to shorten the 30-year period for which records are kept, according to the UK’s Guardian website.

There are concerns that the My Health Records Act 2012 allows the Australian Digital Health Agency, which administers the scheme, to disclose health information when it thinks it is necessary to investigate or prosecute a crime.

The law also states the records could be disclosed to counter “seriously improper conduct”, or to “protect the public revenue”.

These provisions could allow law enforcement agencies and the Australian Tax Office to access the records without needing a warrant, Australia’s parliamentary library has warned.

AZ’s CEO backs Internet of Things

AstraZeneca’s CEO Pascal Soriot had a more positive story to tell about digital technology, saying that it has allowed patients timely access to medicines in China’s crowded healthcare system.

AstraZeneca has been investing in an R&D site in Wuxi City after striking a strategic alliance with WuXi App Tec a few years ago.

The company has been increasing its presence in the city as a result of that partnership – and in the Q2 conference call with journalists Soriot said that it had gained access to the Internet of Things (IoT) technology that is emerging in Wuxi.

In September, Wuxi will host the World IoT EXPO, and Soriot said AstraZeneca has already begun combining IoT tech developed in the city to try and solve some of the issues that can prevent people getting access to medicines.

Soriot said that IoT technology is already helping patients get access to drugs such as its platelet therapy, Brilinta.

Soriot said: “We can leverage digital tools to better treat patients. With Brilinta we have technologies to diagnose patients in the ambulance, send them to the right hospital and make sure they have the appropriate treatment.”

IoT is also helping paediatric patients get access to respiratory drugs, by ensuring they visit a hospital or clinic with staff and equipment available to treat them.

Lack of capacity is an issue in Chinese hospitals and Soriot said IoT technology is helping to alleviate the problem.

“We use digital technologies so parents find the hospital with the right nebulising unit. We direct patients to units where there is room to see the children quickly. We partner with technology companies and hospitals.”

With this in mind Soriot said AZ will have a “big participation” in the Wuxi IoT conference in September.

China is a key market for AZ, and Soriot, as increased economic development means that it is likely grow larger than Europe as a market for drugs in the coming years.

More people are able to afford the out-of-pocket costs of medicines, and the country’s healthcare system is beginning to reimburse novel drugs, instead of relying on established brands.

At the same time the Chinese regulator is fast-tracking development of medicines, and there is a strong focus on innovation overall, said Soriot.

“China can grow and become a market bigger than Europe and catching up US,” he said.

And the learnings from China in IoT technology could be transferred to AZ’s businesses in other countries.

Examples of IoT technology in use elsewhere include the Access360 tool in the US, and the CVD REAL diabetes drug trial, which was enabled using this technology.

“The world is changing. In the past we would bring the China team to Europe (to learn), now it is the other way round,” Soriot said.