Patients with a genetic lung condition that requires them to be segregated during hospital visits will be able to receive care via their smartphone under a pioneering initiative.
The Royal Brompton hospital this week [Thursday] launches a digital healthcare “platform” that could save many of its 600 patients with cystic fibrosis from having to attend clinics.
They will use communicate with their consultant via Skype, undergo lung tests at home and share the results via the internet, send blood tests via the home-testing service Thriva and have prescriptions delivered by Echo, dubbed a medical version of Amazon.
Professor Stuart Elborn, a consultant respiratory physician at the Royal Brompton, in Chelsea, told the Standard: “If we can make it work with CF, we can make it work with asthma, heart failure and congenital heart disease. I trust my money to a smartphone. Why not trust our health care?”
The CF Digital project, which will be trialled free of charge by the digital healthcare firm Babylon for six months, would enable many CF patients to avoid attending clinic, which normally happens eight to 10 times a year.
Cystic fibrosis affects about 10,400 people in the UK and causes thick, sticky mucus to develop in the lungs and digestive system. Average life-span is mid-40s, though some Brompton patients are in their 50s and 60s.
Patients have to be isolated from each other as their lungs harbour bugs that could cause serious infection in another person with the condition.
Professor Elborn said the initiative came from the desire to fit hospital services round the lives of patients, rather than the other way round. About 70 per cent of the Brompton’s patients are keen to participate. “The current model really doesn’t meet their needs,” he said.
“Most importantly, it changes the ‘power relationship’. The person with CF has access to the same data as their doctor. We can have an open discussion, sharing blood tests, lung tests, how they are feeling, and come to a decision that is best for the person at that time.
“It allows people to have the same quality of healthcare but not come to hospital. CF patients are mostly young people who do run their lives from their smartphone. This will free them up to live their lives.”
One patient, Alex, 27, who helped establish the new system, said it enabled “real-time” data to be stored – useful for each patient and invaluable for wider medical research.
Eight years ago the Cambridge university graduate missed half of his gap year when his CF deteriorated and he spent months in hospital.
Since then, the ability to monitor his own condition regularly has helped avoid admissions and has taught him which diets and exercises are most beneficial.
“I see the scope of this as massive,” he said. “I think the Brompton don’t even realise the full benefits of this.”
* An edited version of this story appears in tonight’s Evening Standard