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Home » Digital Health » How to ensure digital health progress remains post-pandemic

Antoine Valterio

Country Manager UK and Ireland, ResMed

In the COVID-19 pandemic, access to digital health technology has been catalysed, but can the momentum be sustained when life returns to normal?

COVID-19 proved the most profound accelerator in adoption of digital healthcare technologies. When it became impossible for patients to visit their clinicians, healthcare services adopted digital technology overnight. Antoine Valterio, Country Manager UK and Ireland of ResMed says: “People could see first-hand, how digital medicine had the ability to energise clinical care, enable systems to perform optimally and empower clinicians and patients alike.”

Take the example of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung condition causing narrowing of airways and damage to the air sacs. As the impact of the virus swept through NHS services across the country there was no way COPD patients, who experience serious air flow restriction in and out of the lungs, could attend appointments for monitoring.

Clinicians rapidly adopted remote monitoring of COPD patients through cloud-connected home non-invasive ventilation (HNIV) to ensure they continued to receive clinical support and treatment. A cellular chip embedded in the device allowed data to be transmitted directly to the cloud, enabling clinicians to remotely monitor the patient’s respiratory rates, blood oxygen levels and track changes in their condition.

Helping patients to feel continuously supported

“The data coming from the devices is viewed online through dashboards, which automatically triage patients into different groups according to clinical need, allowing doctors to immediately pinpoint who needs attention most,” explains Valterio, adding health staff can also adjust device settings remotely where needed.

Digital health can be used to drive patient adherence. It also gives people the security of feeling constantly supported.

For patients, the technology was accompanied by personalised online tools providing feedback on their condition and personalised coaching tips on how to manage it better. “Digital health can be used to drive patient adherence. It also gives people the security of feeling constantly supported,” says Valterio.

In addition, advanced analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence applied over large sets of health data create opportunities for improving the delivery of healthcare and outcomes. “Big data insights will allow us to understand which therapies work best for different patient groups and ultimately contribute to the holy grail of medicine – personalised care for every patient,” says Valterio.

Funding remains a challenge

Currently digital medicine stands at cross roads, where the technology is poised to go mainstream but in danger of being knocked back by inadequate funding. At the start of the pandemic, the usual NHS tariff system – the set price commissioners pay providers for different services – was suspended and an interim umbrella funding put in place.

The payment landscape, maintains Valterio, has not evolved in line with digital health technology. “While data-enabled medical equipment is provided through national procurement frameworks, the problem right now is that the NHS has no tariff codes in place to track and remunerate the work health care staff do when they access data to care for patients remotely. As far as tariffs are concerned, digital health just doesn’t exist.”

Levelling tariffs and incentives

To continue the transformation of care with digital health, Valterio is calling for tariff codes to be introduced to ensure all activities that can be done remotely are equally valued compared to the same activities done face to face. “This would send a strong signal to providers and payors that digital health should be adopted as the standard of care while ensuring patients retain choice,” Valterio says, adding he has taken inspiration from the 2019 German Digital Supply Act that introduced statutory reimbursement for digital health applications.

Ultimately, the introduction of digital health has the potential to drastically reduce the backlog of waiting lists and ensure the NHS offers a sustainable model for ageing populations who will suffer from more and more chronic disease. “It will also overcome geographical health care disparities, getting rid of post code lotteries, so that the care people receive no longer depends on where they live,” says Valterio.

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