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Jane Van Aken, Development Director at Spirit Digital, outlines the five key necessities for successful implementation and use of remote monitoring.

While digital healthcare has existed since the early 1970s, Covid-19 has acted as a catalyst for the NHS’s digital transformation. In order to continue to care for vulnerable patients, including those with chronic conditions and care home residents, the healthcare system has had to embrace innovative technologies, including remote monitoring and telehealth services.

The 2020 NHS Framework for Enhanced Health in Care Homes recognised remote monitoring as an opportunity to enhance the quality of care for residents and alert staff in the wider health system about patients’ health deterioration, while reducing call-outs and hospital admissions. Remote monitoring can also be used in patients’ own homes, allowing healthcare providers to communicate with them and track their conditions within a “virtual ward”. Clinical teams can use digital technology to triage their patients and respond as quickly as possible, often via video conferencing in real time.

This proactive model of care expands health system capacity, empowers patients to better self-manage and minimises the risk of cross-contamination at a time when the collective focus is on protecting vulnerable patients and the NHS. However, in order to gain the greatest benefit from remote monitoring, there are five key necessities for successful implementation and patient care.

Easy access

In a previous Microsoft study, results found that the average human attention span has reduced from 12 seconds to eight seconds over a period of 13 years. The way digital platforms look, feel and respond to the user play an important role in the likelihood of the individual using and engaging with the technology. According to Google, more than half of mobile web traffic leaves a landing page if it takes more than three seconds to load; users want information to be readily available and easy to use, or they lose interest. This is relevant to the way healthcare systems use remote monitoring, as patient and clinical teams require easy-to-use software which is quick and convenient for both parties.

Making informed decisions with data

Data collection is a crucial part of effective remote monitoring to help healthcare providers better understand their patients’ health, indicate which patients should be prioritised, and identify any signs of deterioration before a crisis occurs. Likewise, digital healthcare has the ability to improve research into the impact of drugs and interventions on patients by connecting clinicians to patients on a more regular basis, improving efficiency and enabling them to collect a greater amount of higher quality data. This will help healthcare providers model the most effective treatments for patients based on the data collected.

Nurses and/or carers can use remote monitoring tools to take patients’ vital signs readings and get answers to simple, clinically appropriate questions. This information, supported by sophisticated algorithms, can provide a risk assessment to the clinical teams. By gathering data about the individual’s condition, the clinician is empowered to make well-informed and quicker decisions that best meet the patient’s needs, by remotely providing health and wellbeing advice and intervening where and when more urgent care is needed.

Additionally, clinicians need to ensure the data collected is stored in a safe and private way, as well as presented so that it’s easy to report on and interpret. This will help the healthcare teams to quickly identify any patient concerns by clearly tracking their condition and how they interact with the platform. With this insight, clinicians can provide extra support when it is necessary.

Investment and training

One of the key obstacles that will need to be dealt with in order for the NHS to embrace new technology on a more permanent basis is a lack of access to the right tools that facilitate digital healthcare, as well as a robust IT architecture in place. Remote monitoring can only be effective if it is underpinned with the right connectivity. Without this essential factor, organisations and clinicians will not be able to realise the fullest potential of remote monitoring.

This was recently supported by the Royal College of General Practitioners in its recent publication, General Practice in the Post-Covid World, which said: “Digital technology to aid remote monitoring and self-care is a fast-moving landscape… In order to facilitate and expand remote monitoring of health conditions, we will need significant investment in digital telecare tools and training for both staff and patients to use these tools.”

Patient self-management

One of the main benefits of remote monitoring is the ability to educate the patient so that, if possible, they can reach the stage of self-management in the comfort of their own home – helping to reduce hospital admissions and costs and improve quality of life. This is an important part of the NHS Long Term Plan to offer patients the knowledge, skills and confidence to manage their own health and care.

Having access to approved and reliable education resources in one place means patients can use these tools to manage their disease on a daily basis without being in hospital, and ultimately living a healthier, more informed and improved life with their condition.

Meeting the needs of patients and clinicians

Remote monitoring is a personalised care service, which is why taking user feedback into consideration is a crucial part of software development, to ensure it meets the needs of both clinicians and patients. To help the platform improve and gain the most value from it, developers need to be open to both constructive feedback and praise to ensure the technology can engage with users more effectively.

There may be clinicians who are reluctant to adopt this new way of working with software, but in order to combat this barrier there needs to be added emphasis on how remote monitoring can enhance and support care without being a substitute for their clinical judgement and expertise. Similarly, remote monitoring can help patients manage their condition, allowing them to stay out of hospital while being virtually connected to their clinician.

A post-Covid-19 world

Healthcare is experiencing a revolution as Covid-19 heralds new ways of thinking and using technology within health and care settings. Digital technology holds many great opportunities for improving the way healthcare is delivered, giving more people easier access to better care, while saving significant time and costs for the NHS as we become a more connected nation.

As we move into the next phase of the pandemic and look to the future of community care, the potential for remote monitoring and virtual wards is evident. Unquestionably, remote monitoring will continue to make headway based on what we learn and to meet the changing demands and expectations from patients and healthcare providers alike.

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