Cystic fibrosis and Covid-19 patients get tech to monitor condition at home

NHS at Home programme sees cystic fibrosis patients given home spirometers and coronavirus patients given oximeters, together with an app, to monitor their condition from home and share information with clinicians

The NHS has launched a home monitoring trial for cystic fibrosis and coronavirus patients, using spirometers , oximeters and apps to track their condition.

Cystic fibrosis patients are classed as at extreme risk from the Covid-19 pandemic, and are following specific shielding advice.

The NHS at Home pilot aims to make people feel connected and supported while being able to stay at home. Some 4,000 patients aged six and over will be given a spirometer to measure their lung capacity, along with an app through which they can share information with their clinician.

Normally, such patients have to go into hospital to have their lung capacity measured, but the trial enables cystic fibrosis patients, who could be at great risk should they come into contact with the coronavirus, to stay at home.

Janet Allen, director of strategic innovation at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, said giving 4,000 cystic fibrosis patients access to home spirometry was “great news”.

Allen said the trust is already running a parallel research programme, called Project Breathe, to “help understand whether measuring things like lung function, oxygen levels, activity and weight at home can reduce the number of hospital appointments for people with cystic fibrosis”.

The NHS is also piloting the use of oximeters at home for 150 patients in Watford, Hertfordshire and North London who have tested positive for Covid-19. The pilot, which is run by NHSX in collaboration with health tech startup Huma, gives patients oximeters to use at home, checking in with clinicians regularly via an app.

Clinicians track the patients’ vital signs, such as temperature, heart rate and blood oxygen levels, in close to real time, and if patients show signs of deteriorating, they will receive alerts to arrange further assessments and care.

Tara Donnelly, chief digital officer at NHSX, said: “This is a great example of how new technology is supporting healthcare professionals to provide the right care at the right time.

“With Covid-19, it’s vital that we make use of digital tools that can help support patients who don’t need immediate hospital care and allow close monitoring of their condition.

“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.”

Read more about the NHS and coronavirus

  • NHSX is seeking suppliers to help scale up remote monitoring across the health service in England, particularly for Covid-19 patients, and will go out to tender shortly.
  • The Covid-19 outbreak has led to huge amounts of work for NHS Digital, shifting its priorities and creating unprecedented demand for products and data, but it has also had a positive impact, says CEO Sarah Wilkinson.
  • Video consultation service aims to reduce face-to-face contact to protect patients and reduce infection, as well as caring for people who are mostly staying at home.

Donnelly added: “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.”

The NHS already has plans to extend the pilot to other areas across the country, including high-risk patients who have tested positive for Covid-19.

Should the trial show it is safe and beneficial for patients, the NHS is looking at the potential of a national roll-out ahead of next winter’s pressures.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said technology has been an “incredibly powerful tool in our response to coronavirus”.

He added: “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 it. NHS at Home will help keep people safe and out of hospital, while providing the best possible care.”

In May 2020, the NHS issued an opportunity notice, looking for suppliers to help increase remote monitoring for patients, particularly those with coronavirus.

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