Digital Therapeutics Is Transforming Healthcare for Patients with Long-Term Conditions

We recently sat down with Dr Simon Bourne, the CEO and Founder of my mhealth, to chat about the current state of the healthcare sector and what healthcare providers can do to fuel the digital transformation of care for patients with long-term conditions.

Healthcare is never far from the headlines, even in normal times. But never has the healthcare sector experienced such an amount of scrutiny and attention as it has done in the past year. Increased demand on healthcare systems has severely limited the opportunity for patients to meet with clinical professionals face-to-face and receive the care they need. It’s with this in mind that visionary thinkers are pushing for a rethink within healthcare – and digital transformation is the driving force.

One individual who has been ahead of the game is Dr Simon Bourne, CEO and Founder of my myhealth, a company dedicated to creating digital platforms that educate, support and provide care to patients with long-term conditions like asthma, diabetes, COPD, heart disease – and Covid-19. We sat down with Dr Bourne to find out more about what my mhealth is doing to digitally transform the care for patients with long-term conditions, and how healthcare and digital leaders might transform the sector more widely.

A Little Background…

Dr Simon Bourne qualified from University College London in 1995 and specialised in respiratory medicine. He took up a role as lead COPD consultant and senior lecturer at University Hospital Southampton in 2007 and took most of his practice from the trust into the community within the first three months. Realising innovation was key to reaching COPD patients, and others with long-term conditions in the community he set up new community pathways within Southampton City.

In late 2011, Simon founded the company my mhealth to develop a digital platform for helping educate patients on ways to improve their own health via exercise, and provide tutorials on how to use treatments more effectively. Four years later, Simon became one of the first NHS National Innovation Accelerator Fellows, helping to deliver the five-year forward view to improve the UK health economy and outcomes via digital solutions.

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Powering a New Age of Patient Interactivity with Digital

Digital channels are transforming the way healthcare providers and clinicians interact with their patients, and my mhealth is part of this vanguard effort to connect patients with clinicians. The issue currently is that there are more patients than ever with long-term conditions. But these same people are unable to get the amount of face-to-face interactivity and advice from their clinicians that they need to cope with or treat their symptoms.

The digital transformation of healthcare is looking to change that. By opening up channels of communication, healthcare providers will be able to offer their patients the right advice at the right time. For Dr Bourne, this is essential to treating long-term conditions – and it’s the rationale behind my mhealth.

“These self-management apps offer a unique, customised, and personalised experience for patients and they can be accessed and used on almost any device, from laptops and smartphones to smart TV’s. Ensuring that the wider population can easily access support is extremely important no matter what their level of digital literacy is. So, it made sense to develop the technology in this way” said Dr Bourne. The result is that patients with long-term conditions – generally older individuals – can access advice on their terms, when they need it.

The advantage of this is clear. On average, patients only get about 15 minutes of face-to-face time with their clinicians at present per year. But through digital channels like my mhealth, that time can increase to as much as eight hours or more per year. This is in addition to the educational material found within the app that empowers patients to fuel their own treatment.

Dr Bourne told us of a patient with COPD who came into his office extremely symptomatic, “I gave him this website I had developed and he went back home. He sent me in a video about three months later of how he was, and what I hadn’t realised was that he was housebound because he was a carer for his wife who had dementia. Which meant that he couldn’t attend any of his annual reviews or see his clinicians.

“But after doing the exercise videos, he felt well enough to start exercising outside of his house. He lost three stone in weight, stopped exacerbating, was a much better carer for his wife because his capacity had increased. It was then that it really dawned on us and we thought, ‘We’re really onto something here.’ The drugs for this condition are good, but they’re not as good as what we have seen with apps like myCOPD which work in synergy with current medication. This delivers something more than any drug invented for the condition can.”

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Digital as an Educational Tool within Healthcare

Another powerful yet simple way that healthcare providers are using digital is to educate patients on how to use their medical devices.

Dr Bourne drew attention to the fact that there are over 30 different inhaler devices on the market for asthma patients. “If you go and see your practice nurse, there’s a good chance that they might not understand how to deliver the correct education which leads to misinformation, which can have some pretty major health implications.” he said. “In addition, there are problems with access to placebo medication, which makes it difficult to demonstrate delivery in front of patients.” This is because there’s a lot of environmental waste in the creation of placebo medication, but it’s also usually one-use only – which is against NHS net-zero commitments.

“What we found was that we could use digital ways of educating patients using their medical device to correct 80% of inhaler errors that were present in 70% of our patients,” said Dr Bourne. “So almost all of our patients weren’t using their medication correctly or at the right time, and they were doing that because they didn’t receive the correct instruction. Digital, on the other hand offers consistent and correct information to patients, 100% of the time.”

Despite the full long-term effects of the pandemic yet to be felt, it’s almost a given that demand on healthcare even in normal periods will increase. Where healthcare providers can educate patients without face-to-face interaction must only be a good thing going forward.

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These self-management apps offer a unique, customised, and personalised experience for patients and they can be accessed and used on almost any device, from laptops and smartphones to smart TV’s. 

Dr. Simon Bourne
CEO & Co-Founder, my mhealth

Headshot Simon Bourne
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The Impact of Covid-19 on Healthcare

So far, my mhealth have focused on delivering care for asthma, COPD, diabetes, and heart disease patients. But when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the my mhealth team wasted little time in reconfiguring their digital platform to help.

The result was the Covid-19 Virtual Ward app. This is for people who have Covid-19 symptoms, but who aren’t ill enough to be admitted to hospital. Teams are put in place to monitor symptoms of patients using the app – where on a daily basis they’re asked how they’re feeling and if their symptoms have changed and to input their oxygen levels twice a day – allowing them to identify which patients need to be managed as a priority.

A further advantage of my mhealth’s proposition was its coordination with the suite of platforms for other long-term conditions available through the company. Patients with Long Covid or permanent symptoms after contracting Covid-19 are now able to access the other platforms for free in order to help them manage their ongoing symptoms.

This kind of holistic thinking when it comes to patient care can obviously be delivered in a physical setting, but it takes time. With my mhealth and digital healthcare solutions, patients can receive an individualised care experience right there and then – and that’s the real difference that the digital transformation of healthcare is set to bring.

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What Can the UK Healthcare Sector Learn from Other Countries?

Elsewhere in our discussion with Dr Bourne, we chatted about the digitalisation of healthcare, where the UK stands currently, and what we could learn from other countries – particularly the US.

One thing the US healthcare system has got right is the way it funds digital solutions to health issues. It gives incentives to providers to use digital solutions, whereas here in the UK that kind of incentive simply doesn’t exist yet. NHSx is making attempts to transform the sector, but the funding simply isn’t there – £18 million extra funding during the pandemic for a population of over 50 million isn’t enough.

“I think the major barrier is that there’s not the vehicle for funding for digital transformation at the moment. There was meant to be some alignment with the drug tariff so companies could be reimbursed for selling digital health tech into healthcare systems. There were meant to be funds available for CCGs, STPs, ICSs to be able to implement digital transformation that never happened. Additionally, many of things won’t move forward in a healthcare system unless our clinical colleagues are incentivised and reimbursed for doing so.”

But in the United States, there are remote monitoring reimbursement schemes that enable healthcare providers to receive reimbursement on par with seeing patients face-to-face. That kind of thinking doesn’t exist as yet in the UK.

“The great thing that digital does is it delivers the right advice at the right time individualised to the patient – and you just don’t get that from conventional clinical care.”

Other lessons we could learn come from tailoring experiences to meet the needs of different groups, regions and countries – something my mhealth itself has experience in. In New Zealand, for instance, with sponsorship from Vodafone, the my mhealth platform has been used to connect with Western Islanders, the Maori population and Pacific islanders dealing with long-term conditions with support on smartphones devices. “The question was how to deliver something digitally that could accommodate all those groups,” Dr Bourne said. The platform has been tailored to meet the needs of these cultures, and the my mhealth team are excited to see how these groups use it before expanding to a wider release throughout the country.

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The Next Steps for my mhealth

“In the next 12 months, we’re internationalising the business. Currently we’re based here in the UK, but we recently launched in Jersey, and we’re now about to launch in New Zealand in April, but our biggest target this year is the United States,” Dr Bourne told us regarding the future of my mhealth.

With a greater demand for healthcare since the start of the pandemic, and socially distanced care becoming a norm, it seems that my mhealth is in a prime position to help. It’s about empowering patients and giving them the means to get the advice they need, when they need it.

It’s a time of change within the healthcare sector. But the digital transformation of health is leading to a more positive, healthy future. The onus now should be on securing more funding to accelerate these initiatives – and start improving the lives of patients from more accessible, individualised, attentive, digital care.

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