Using standards to optimise personal health technologies

Mobile health, also known as mHealth, has undoubtedly revolutionised healthcare and self-management, providing health data within a short space of time, or even in real time. However, while personal digital technologies seem like a huge step forward in health and care, there are still some elements to consider to make sure we utilise their full potential to deliver meaningful engagement and benefit end-users.

One of the healthcare disciplines which has experienced a significant technological transformation is diabetes care. The desire of being able to self-manage and control this condition was expressed in the #WeAreNotWaiting movement, calling for diabetes data to be more accessible and actionable by using digital tools.

Speaking on the Equipped, Enabled and Empowered: Does Personal Health Technology Foster Long-Term Patient Engagement? panel at HETT Show 2022, Dr Iain Cranston, Diabetologist at Portsmouth Hospitals and Professional Lead for PRSB’S diabetes standards, noted: “In the last 5 – 10 years, we have seen a paradigm shift in the management of diabetes, with over 80% of patients with this condition now using monitoring devices.”

One of the benefits of such tools is their ability to inform users how and when they should adjust their glucose levels – something previously possible only in the healthcare provider’s consultation room.

It is hard to not agree with the current mantra that ‘data saves lives’. However, this doesn’t mean we should store huge amounts of data just for the sake of it. The solution is to find a balance between information we have and what we should derive from it. Carey McClellan of the NHS Innovation Accelerator shared his perspective on that: “It’s about providing the support that patients need to self-manage, but connecting them to the system when necessary – not providing large amounts of data that someone has to spend too much time analysing. Clinicians are overloaded and they receive too much data.”

Another issue refers to the way in which data is delivered to clinicians. Nausheen Hameed, GP and Health Technology Advisor at UCL Partners, Academic Health Science Partnership, shared: “When we were working with the NHS home blood pressure check scheme, data wasn’t being delivered back to us in a coherent way. We would receive it in different forms, such as emails and papers. Remote wearables are great, but we need to manage the data we get appropriately.”

While the ability to store different sets of data in one device is fascinating, it is important to remember what it is specifically that we want to monitor. Are we using wearables to help people prevent conditions remotely, or are we using them to manage chronic diseases? The focus here needs to be clear to make sure technology users get the benefits they need, and healthcare professionals are provided with data that is crucial to help make informed and justified decisions about health.

Governance is another element that should not be ignored in personal health technologies. One of the ways in which we can make sure that they are regulated is through implementation of data standards. Agreeing with this principle, Cranston commented: “If you set standards for data and the way it’s summarised and collected, you can then create a procurement and purchasing pathway within the health and care environment, so that only devices aligning with those standards can be onboarded.”

In doing so, the foundations of interoperability will be instilled, and care providers can be assured that they are onboarding high quality technology. There is still a human element required to ensure personal health technologies are optimised, however. To make the most out of digital health solutions, we must make sure we know how to use them. While the appetite for these tools is growing, so must be the digital skills to fully harness their potential – closing the digital exclusion gap and supporting those who are less digitally-savvy is key here. At the same time, we should think about technology as an element enhancing our health management, and not totally replacing it. Only through the balance between utilising digital means and engaging with healthcare professionals, can we deliver successful outcomes.

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