Patients recovering from COVID-19 are being given devices and apps so that medics can monitor their condition remotely, as part of the NHS drive to give people more personalised care in their own homes.
The NHS is trialling the use of oximeters, combined with app-based check-ins with clinicians, to help spot any dip in patients’ blood oxygen levels while they recover at home.
It is hoped that the technology will make it easier to spot whether people need to be re-admitted to hospital.
The new oximeter service is being trialled with more than 150 patients in sites in Watford, Hertfordshire and North London, with the NHS’s digital transformation unit, NHSX, working with British digital health start-up, Huma.
Clinicians in ‘virtual wards’ are able to track patients’ vital signs – including temperature, heart rate and blood oxygen saturation – in near real-time, receiving alerts if they suggest a patient is deteriorating so that further assessments and care can be arranged.
The service has since been extended to additional sites in West London, with plans for further pilots in other areas of the country including higher-risk patients who have recently tested positive for COVID-19.
If the trials show the model to be safe and beneficial for patients, they could help to inform a national rollout ahead of the coming winter.
Tara Donnelly, chief digital officer, NHSX said: “The feedback we are getting from patients is that the remote monitoring with clinical oversight is really reassuring to them, and they are grateful to be at home while they recover, rather than in a hospital bed. The clinical team is finding it helps give them very rapid feedback on their patients and they are able to keep an eye on a number of people at a glance, which is working much better for them than the previous system which relied on phone calls.”
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “Technology has been an incredibly powerful tool in our response to coronavirus. We have learned so much about what can be done online, and in some cases what is better done that way. Technology will play a growing and vital role in the future.
“While we restore face to face NHS services too, new innovations will ensure patients can benefit from the comfort of home, with the reassurance that they can be fast tracked to support from the NHS should they need. NHS at Home will help keep people safe and out of hospital while providing the best possible care.”
At the same time, a separate trial will see patients with cystic fibrosis given devices to enable them to remain safely at home.
People with cystic fibrosis are among those classed as at extreme risk from the coronavirus and have been advised by the government to follow specific shielding advice.
From this month, 4,000 CF patients aged six years and over will be given a spirometer to measure their lung capacity, and an app that lets them share this information with their doctor.
Home-based spirometry has been hailed as “the most important intervention” for cystic fibrosis patients by the CF National Network.
NHS England has accelerated the roll-out to help ensure people can stay safe at home during the pandemic, while at the same time ensuring that those whose condition worsens can get the right help fast.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “For patients and their families living with cystic fibrosis this is a landmark moment, offering people vital health help at home.
“The Covid-19 outbreak has hit every household in the country but for some people with certain conditions, this virus will have been especially unsettling and dangerous, which is why the NHS is looking to make sure those at greatest risk can get safe, tailored care, despite the ongoing pandemic threat.”
Dr Janet Allen, director of strategic innovation at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, said: “The expansion of home spirometry by NHS England and NHS Improvement to 4,000 people with cystic fibrosis across England is great news.
“We’ve been working closely with NHS England and NHS Improvement to ensure more people with CF have this equipment at home during these difficult times, so that clinical teams can continue to make important decisions about their care.”