Self-care may benefit patients but don't expect the NHS to pay for it
NHS organisations are more likely to buy something innovative that helps medical professionals do their job, rather than products that help patients care for themselves.
It is always dangerous to generalise about the NHS. Britain’s health services are provided by an assortment of several hundred organisations, many significantly older than the three-letter NHS acronym they work under; and each of the UK’s four nations has its own policies and practices.
But as a rule, if you want to supply NHS organisations with innovative goods and services, make these useful to doctors or other clinical professionals. If you have something that would help patients care for themselves, then you may well have to sell it to them directly. Helping patients self-care can be a worthwhile style of treatment, both in terms of efficacy and efficiency, particularly for chronic conditions. But don’t expect the NHS to fund it.
Take mental health. The NHS finds it hard to meet the need for less urgent (although still debilitating) mental health problems, and in some cases these can be treated through online services. Some trusts buy online therapy from Big White Wall, a company set up with Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, while others offer patients access to online software courses.
But some of those offering lighter self-care products, such as Moodscope – an online card game which lets users self-administer a standard psychological test, and so monitor their state of mind day by day – have found it hard to sell to NHS organisations. This is despite Moodscope having coming top of an online poll run by the Department of Health for health apps.
This is partly down to NHS spending most of its time tackling illnesses and conditions, rather than maintaining healthiness. But it is also because much of the power in health service organisations resides with doctors and other medical professionals. A product or service that helps in their work is likely to find an NHS market, even if heads of IT initially aren’t initially interested.
An example is the award-winning Mersey Burns app, developed by a former captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps - turned software designer, as well as two plastic surgeons.
It replaces the paper forms used for the complex calculations of drug and fluid doses for burns victims with a mobile app, where users simply colour in the areas of the body that have suffered burns, and enter the other data needed. It is a great idea which deserves to succeed, but its chances of being adopted by the NHS are helped by the fact that it is used by doctors rather than patients.
The alternative for someone with a great self-care idea is to sell it directly to the public – which is what has happened with many mental healthcare products, such as self-help books and Buddhist meditation apps. While this provides a route to market - and some products do their users a lot of good - it would surely be better if they could be prescribed through the NHS, where they would be chosen and prescribed by professionals.
But at present, if you want to sell to the NHS, you generally need to have a product for those professionals, not the patients they serve.
Could digital treatments meet mental health service users' needs? (Guardian, May 2014)
Personal data and the quantified self – things you ought to know (TheInformationDaily.com, April 2014)
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.
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