The digital health revolution has started and Lancashire is set to play a leading role.
Health and social care bosses have acknowledged rising demand for health care and diminishing resources means new solutions will be needed to delivering and receiving health care.
Now the county and South Cumbria have been chosen as the locations to trial an app which could help transform both access to and the delivery of health services.
The NHS Orb is a new digital platform which is designed to ease access to health advice and care.
It is being developed for NHS England and will bring together medical information in one easy-to-use app, which will also help patients manage their own medical conditions.
When it is launched later this year it is hoped it will offer patients the opportunity to book GP appointments, arrange blood tests and find their nearest pharmacy and health advice all via one starting point - the Orb.
.Developer Ross Cooper said: “We want to create an NHS platform for patients. In England there are hundreds and thousands of applications and websites that deal with every aspect of health.
“The issue we’ve found is that either people don’t know about them or didn’t find them easy to organise and access.”
He said a recent survey showed 40 per cent of visits to hospital A&E departments resulted in zero treatment and believes there must be a better way to enable people to get appropriate health care.
Ross predicts: “This will bring together all NHS services in an exciting interactive format. We’re allowing services to be accessed.”
A promotional film for the Orb gives an indication of its potential range – from enabling patients to book appointments online to getting information about different health conditions.
Encryption means that any personal data will be safe with health records available for access online once arrangements have been made with a local health service.
If local services also provide online consultations these too could be accessed through the Orb.
Ross stresses the ORB can be adapted to the end user - for example if someone is diagnosed with diabetes they may want to use a diabetes app which includes help measuring and controlling sugar intake. It would also include links to council care services.
Ross said: “We want to create a digital platform for an individual to have access to the most appropriate or best care or treatment for their specific condition.
“The NHS Orb is a platform that can be adapted by an individual to meet their specific needs and we think that’s unique.”
The Orb will be built for any device with a digital display - including computers, smartphones and smartwatches.
The platform has been in development for three years and is now ready to be tested.
Some of the first people to give their feedback were county schoolchildren attending a special one day event at UCLan. Organised by Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria it showcased digital healthcare solutions and gave pupils the opportunity to brainstorm their ideas about how new technology could aid future health care.
The Orb developers have carried out several enagagment sessions across the county, including at Southlands High School in Chorley, with more to follow in the next three weeks.
They have also worked with staff and students at Swansea University and will be launching a Student Orb for the university in the autumn.
He added: “We’re a private company building a platform for the public sector. It wil be an evolutionary journey. People will be using digital services more and more and we provide a central place to align and access them.”
Dr Amanda Thornton, the Digital Health Clinical Lead for Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria, is leading the drive locally to consider how the NHS can better harness technological advances to deliver services better.
She explained: “We’re struggling for workforce. We haven’t got enough doctors and nurses to do jobs, so technology can really help us to use those people we have in work even more effectively.”
She is proud that Lancashire and South Cumbria has taken a “massive leap forward” in implementing digital technologies to provide access to records online, meaning that medics in different parts of the region will be kept up to date on patients’ treatment thanks to the shared care records.
Dr Thornton proudly reports that when the Government’s new health minister was recently appointed, Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria was asked if information about its exemplary progress in matters digital could go in an induction pack for the minister.
Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria recently launched its ‘Our Digital Future’ Strategy.
This outlines principles for developing digital solutions between organisations - including hospital trusts, other NHS organisations and councils.
It includes pledges to "use data to prevent, predict and respond to ill-health ” and to “engage with academia, industry and others to accelerate innovation.”
She said: “We are really proud of the Digital Strategy.”
She stressed the priority is to enable access to the right information to make the best decisions to enable people to keep well and stay well.
Empowering individuals will, for example, mean giving them the ability to access and add to their own electronic healthcare record, manage appointments online, access good quality information to support decision making about health and access support remotely when needed. It is predicted digital tools will also help individuals make changes in lifestyle and monitor the impact of those changes.
Meanwhile, Lancashire County Council is using a type of assistive technology called Telecare to help support adults with care and support needs at home and to reassure their carers.
A spokesman said: “The Telecare service uses a range of equipment, such as personal alarms, falls detectors, medication dispensers and smoke detectors, which is linked to and alerts a 24/7 monitoring centre that will arrange the right response if someone needs further help. We are currently looking at what other equipment we could provide in the future, including mobile technology to support people when they are out and about.”
* This summer Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria in partnership with Healthwatch, has been touring the region with a special Chatty Van to talk to people about the positive uses of digital technology to boost health.
Dr Thornton said: “As our digital offer grows we hope people will find it easier and more convenient to use online services, but not forgetting that technology will never repair the care and compassion that comes from our dedicated workforce."
She acknowledged: "We know digital will not work for everybody .For those who would like to use digital but cannot, our aim will be to find ways to get them on line.”
What is Healthier Lancashire and Cumbria?
Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria is the shadow integrated care system for the region, formerly known as the Sustainability and Transformation Partnership(STP).
It covers a region made up of five local areas - Central Lancashire, West Lancashire, Pennine Lancashire, Fylde Coast, and Morecambe Bay.
Partners include: • seven CCGs (clinical commissioning groups) including Greater Preston, Chorley and South Ribble
• five acute and community Trusts including Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust
• Lancashire and Cumbria County Councils, Blackpool council and Blackburn with Darwen council.