Wearables

Health data from wearable tech could save lives & the NHS

9th June 2022
Kiera Sowery

Using the data provided by wearable tech such as sports watches and smartphone health apps could highlight serious medical issues in real-time and – if allied to NHS IT processes – automatically trigger a clinical reaction without the normal GP referral process, potentially saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds a year. So says medical health expert, Ashley Davids.

Thousands of heart attacks and strokes could be prevented each year if the health data of wearable tech such as sports watches was harnessed by the NHS, says leading clinician Ashley Davids. In a recent interview with the CX Insider podcast team, Davids, who has a long career in both public and private healthcare said: “It’s already too late when the heart attack or stroke has occurred."

“Not only is this life threatening to the patient but it costs the NHS billions in treating the aftermath, with weeks in hospital and months of recovery. But the signs of an oncoming attack – such as heightened stress levels – can often be identified by the smart wearable tech that we are increasingly wearing.

“Prevention is always better than cure, so imagine a time when your smart watch identifies a serious issue, alerts the NHS systems and directs you to go to a hospital for immediate care. No GP referrals, no drawn-out processes – just real time health care. The potential for preventing heart attacks and strokes – and the burden on the healthcare system – would be enormous.”

Freeing up beds

With the NHS struggling to get back on track after the pandemic and waiting lists for care longer than ever, connecting our everyday wearable tech to the NHS’ IT systems offers the potential to reduce a major burden on the UK’s healthcare system. It could free up thousands of bed days by treating the symptoms before they become chronic.

There is a precedent for securely managing patient data on a vast scale. UK firm ACF Technologies was the creator and provider of the patient scheduling system for COVID-19 testing and the booking system for all vaccines and boosters during the pandemic. At the time of writing its system has so far managed 56 million appointments over 26 million patients – all without any error or misuse of the data. ACF’s technology and its experience of bringing together masses of medical data in a seamless central tech platform shows that it can be done, efficiently and securely.

“Data has the potential to be the fourth emergency service, recording more in a day about the users’ health than an annual check-up ever could,” said Davids. “When allied with artificial intelligence it could constantly update and get cleverer at predicting when health emergencies will occur. If these could be allied to the NHS’s own systems it would identify which patients to see first, streamlining the process, preempting emergencies and saving lives.

Can you afford not to share data?

Wearable tech offers a lifeline for both users and the NHS. Thousands of people are walking around every day with medical data that the NHS could use to predict when they are going to be seriously unwell. The question is: are people willing to share it with the NHS? If they were given access then at some predefined level of symptoms gathered on the wearable device, a ‘ping’ could be sent by the NHS telling the user/patient to attend an appointment with a relevant specialist/A&E - not wholly unlike the Track & Trace system used during the pandemic.

While useful in theory, incorporating wearable tech into the health ecosystem faces a number of technical and administrative hurdles. A primary challenge would be to gather the data, verify it and approve it. Only approved devices would be allowed to submit data to the NHS, as rogue data would corrupt diagnosis, with possibly dire consequences.

“If properly harnessed by AI and a robust patient scheduling system, the potential for improving wellbeing and reducing the burden on the NHS is enormous,” concluded Davids. “If a person’s wearable tech registered a condition that needed medical intervention the NHS could swing into action in curing it before the patient themself even realised they had a problem. And who wouldn’t want to be wearing something they knew was looking out for them?”

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