Head of Fitbit Health Solutions, Europe, Middle East and Africa
Across the NHS, healthcare professionals and patients alike have been struggling due to increasing demand. Exploring tech collaborations can help ease some of the burden.
Tech sheds light on what the future of the NHS could look like, with organisations joining forces to help improve patient care.
Reasons we need tech collaborations for the NHS
The NHS is well-used to dealing with pressure. But in recent years, it has come under intense pressure — for a variety of reasons. While the ageing population is a cause for celebration, it’s also a massive challenge because it creates a higher demand for health services.
The long shadow of Covid-19 has also heaped extra stress onto an already burdened system, resulting in a backlog in elective care with long waiting times for patients. According to the BMA (British Medical Association), in February, more than 7 million patients were waiting to start NHS treatment. These issues have exacerbated health inequalities, contributing to poorer patient outcomes. In particular, women and those from deprived areas — who are already at higher cardiovascular risk — have poorer rates of cardiac rehabilitation uptake and programme completion.
Wearables can help alleviate NHS pressures and inequalities
Fortunately, advances in technology could help alleviate these pressures and inequalities. Take wearables, which have evolved significantly from step trackers to health companions. They can track heart rate variability, skin temperature and oxygen saturation (SpO2 levels), among other metrics.
For example, the Fitbit Sense 2 smartwatch includes an Irregular Heart Rhythm Notification feature (powered by a detection algorithm). It can passively assess a patient’s heart rate rhythm and notify them if there’s anything that might be suggestive of atrial fibrillation — one of the most common heart conditions.
Wearables could improve the way the NHS delivers cardiac rehabilitation services. This is important because cardiovascular disease is one of the UK’s biggest killers. Key cardiac services are recommended by NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) as they reduce the risk of heart attacks, death and hospitalisation; lower healthcare costs; and improve quality of life.
In line with this, a new programme called DERIC (Digitally Enhanced Rehabilitation In Cardiac Patients) has been developed by healthtech company ConnectedLife. It leverages devices and services from Fitbit and Google Health.
Tackling cardiovascular disease by enabling holistic health tracking
UK hospitals consistently fail to achieve targets for cardiac rehab uptake and completion. This is due to factors including lack of programme personalisation; the inconvenience of attending face-to-face sessions; gender bias; racial, socioeconomic, psychological and language barriers; and poor physical health. Low or no attendance rates can unduly impact those already facing health inequalities, including women and those from deprived backgrounds.
DERIC enables cardiac rehabilitation to be delivered 100% remotely, in the patient’s own home. It helps them get back on their feet after a heart attack or heart surgery, with exercise, information sessions and support. It addresses barriers to face-to-face rehab and, as programmes are personalised, patients are more incentivised to take part. Cardiac rehab services are used by more than 100,000 patients in the UK annually. By making cardiac rehabilitation programmes more effective, wearables could help the NHS achieve targets and reduce future risks.
Currently, DERIC is in pilot mode and patients will be using a smartwatch to measure their heart rate, rhythm and physical activity — while a ConnectedLife mobile app enables them to enter additional health data (such as blood pressure and weight) and answer questions about diet and other health information. They can also use it to view a summary of their activity and health and wellness data, as well as communicate with their care team.
This collaboration helps doctors, nurses
and other health professionals to
remotely monitor their patients.
How digital solutions benefit both patients and healthcare providers
“The combination of Fitbit and ConnectedLife provides users with an overview of their activity, heart data and other health-related information, allowing them to manage their own day-to-day wellbeing,” says Nicola Maxwell, head of Fitbit Health Solutions, Europe, Middle East and Africa.
“This collaboration helps doctors, nurses and other health professionals to remotely monitor their patients. It could lead to better condition management and potentially reduce the burden on the healthcare system.”
Smart technology is also a way to save money. For instance, a paper published on JAMA Health Network in 2022 found that wearables may be a more cost-effective way to screen for atrial fibrillation.
Safely integrating digital technologies in patient care
Moreover, patients can rest assured that their health data is safe as DERIC is designed to be embedded securely within NHS systems. Other companies involved in its development have no access to patient medical records and will not be involved in the analysis of trial results.
Going forward, wearable technology may help prevent medical problems from occurring. Researchers are finding that data from wearables could help predict not just the onset of disease but also hospital readmissions.
Over time, this data could be used by healthcare teams to reach patients at higher risk and help them stay out of hospitals. That would be a big breakthrough for an overstretched health service serving an ageing population. Wearables will continue to innovate over the coming decade, resulting in better health delivery while helping to relieve pressure on the NHS.