Digital home care for people with coronavirus

NHSX Chief Digital Officer Tara Donnelly reflects on the experience of patients with COVID-19 being cared for remotely using a tech-enabled service.

At the very beginning of the pandemic, NHSX was approached to help support the rapid establishment of tech-enabled COVID home monitoring services. Just four weeks later, this was supporting patients in three sites - a very large virtual ward at Watford General Hospital, part of the West Herts Hospitals group and two primary care hot hubs in North West London.

The model saw patients given a pulse oximeter and an app, so that they could leave hospital earlier than would otherwise be the case, or avoid admission altogether. Instead, the use of an app and oximeter enabled them to provide their NHS clinical team with regular feedback on symptoms including temperature and blood oxygen rates. Enabling them to recover while being monitored at home, and if they deteriorated, the clinical team would be quickly alerted and care given.

We are delighted that there are now 85 NHS organisations across England providing a tech-enabled service to support many more COVID patients at home, focusing on those at highest risk, thanks to great work from NHS teams across the country.

In December, we shared feedback from the first sites, showing that it was well received by patients with 93% reporting that they were pleased with the remote care service, most frequently describing it as “reassuring” and 95% finding the app easy to use.

One of those NHS organisations is Mersey Care in Liverpool, which uses a Telehealth Hub service. Describing it in a recent article which conveys how beneficial they have found it for patients and staff alike. Husband and wife, Colin and Pauline Etheridge, explain how they were supported by the nursing team through the service when they both got COVID and Colin became quite unwell, developing pneumonia.

As Pauline said “I can’t express enough how fantastic a service this is. I know it sounds strange but it was like having them in the room with you, at your side. I never felt I was on my own.”

Bernadette Nuttall, acting Telehealth Team Leader who helped establish the service said feedback has been extremely positive; “People are telling us how much security it gives them to have someone monitoring and giving advice…Once they know we’ll be there to monitor and on the end of a phone whenever they need us, people start to feel more reassured.”

The service is a partnership between Mersey Care, Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group, digital health company Docobo and has been supported by the North West England NHSE/I regional team, the Innovation Agency and NHSX. Our role has been to offer support to NHS organisations that want to adopt tech-enabled services. This includes access to shared resources and learning through a national Innovation Collaborative with a dedicated microsite on the NHS Futures platform to support adopting sites (details below). Thanks to access to an emergency Coronavirus fund of £18m, NHSX has also been able to cover the costs of the technology needed to set these services up.

Like Mersey Care, localities across the NHS have worked hard to set these 85 services up with their digital partner of choice. We want to say a big thank you to the following digital companies who have helped make this speedy scaling possible - Baywater Healthcare, Current Health, Doccla, Docobo, Doctaly - Doctaly Assist, Good Sam, Graphnet Health - CareCentric, Healthcall, Huma, Inhealthcare, Luscii, My mHealth, PrimarycareIT - OneContact, SafeSteps, Simple.uk.net - Florence, Spirit - CliniTouch Vie and VCare - eMar app.

In his latest blog post, Matt Inada-Kim also shares his experience on the use of pulse oximetry to care for COVID patients at home. Reflecting on how this could change how we provide care for good.

Of course, the benefits of remote monitoring aren’t limited to support for coronavirus, it is also being used to support people at home for a wide range of health conditions, and we are working with colleagues across the NHS and their digital health partners to extend its use over the year ahead.

The NHS is pretty remarkable, and the performance on COVID vaccinations is the most recent demonstration of this. Partnering this amazing institution with the power of the internet and putting innovative yet simple digital solutions in the hands of patients and clinicians is what, we believe, will keep it remarkable in the years to come.

Further resources

NHS Futures

There are a host of resources on the NHS Futures platform - the dedicated collaborative website for NHS, social care and local authority staff interested in adoption - and a community keen to share and help each other. The following are particularly relevant:

You can join these platforms by using the links above however, if you’re an NHS, social care or local authority staff member and you’re not already on NHS Futures you can set up an account by submitting a request for access on the Future NHS website. To discuss the workspace please contact us via email at innovationcollaborative@nhsx.nhs.uk