Could wearables save A&E?

 

James Norman, former Royal Liverpool & Broadgreen Hospital director and current healthcare director at EMC, looks at whether wearable devices could be the answer to the looming A&E crisis.

As the number of A&E admissions continues to rise, fuelled by chronic illness and an ageing population, the NHS is under ever increasing pressure to keep up with demand. Recently released figures show that the last three months of 2014 saw the worst A&E waits for a decade, while delays faced by ambulances when they arrived at A&E doubled over the past year. A major part of this burden comes from the emergency re-admissions that take place each year, a number the NHS itself estimated to be as high as 600,000 in 2011.

If we are going to help reduce the pressure on our overstretched emergency departments, we need to find new ways of monitoring patients to ensure that their treatment is effective and to reduce the risk of exacerbations and emergency admissions. This year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas showcased a multitude of wearable technology. Whilst it’s still early days for the wearables market, these devices provide a simple method of tracking heart rate, body temperature, respiration, posture and activity levels in general. There are also models in development that will soon be able to track blood oxygen levels and measure blood pressure. The data captured by these devices can drive proactive monitoring and care, providing early warning if a discharged patient is at risk and giving medics the ability to recall them through non-A&E routes.

In a recent report, EMC and Volterra investigated how a more joined up approach to using information insights and opportunities in ehealth could deliver a Wellness Model, aimed at empowering individuals to have more control over their own lifestyles and care as well as making the healthcare sector more efficient. The study demonstrated that the use of data analytics could reduce re-admission costs by tens of millions each year, and have a knock-on effect on the quality of patient care. However, this kind of model can only be achieved through collaboration and sharing of information.

A serious gap currently exists between the NHS and other industries in the use of data analytics and technology. The lack of willingness to embrace electronic records, predictive analytics, collaboration and effective monitoring of patient and treatment outcomes, in addition to personalised care, is leading to failures and financial inefficiencies that are unsustainable in the long-term. With wearables monitoring and recording our vital signs, data analytics could lead to increased treatment effectiveness through risk stratification at an individual level and disease prevention through identification of risk factors.

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