Driving Patient Safety with Digital Technology

First published:
September 5, 2022
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Peter Kirpalani-Collins

Patient safety may be paramount across healthcare, but we are a long way from ‘first, do no harm’. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that medication errors cause US$ 42 billion of global total health expenditure worldwide, 50% of the overall preventable harm in medical care.

Medication errors can be the result of many things including misdiagnosis, mislabelling, misreading, misusing and misprescribing. The WHO has challenged the world to stop these preventable harms and digital technology could be a huge help. The Director of Patient Safety for the UK’s National Health Service even wrote: “Patient safety is now inextricably linked to digital transformation and the promise of a safe health system for the future rests in digital clinical safety.”

From electronic health records (EHRs) to telehealth, evidence continues to show that new technology can improve patient safety. 

Since 2014, EHRs have become standard in medical offices and hospitals around the US. This technology has made it easier to assess and share patient data, so providers can collaborate on care and expose potential safety issues before they occur. These digital records keep track of patient allergies and medications, allowing providers to check for interactions or adverse drug effects before administering new medications, potentially saving lives even if the patient is unconscious.

EHRs can also help hospitals and clinics to standardise guidelines, adhere to evidence-based practices, and help providers at different facilities know where to find information in the health record, promoting quality care. By having the information available at the moment providers need it, EHRs greatly improve patient safety.

EHRs are just the beginning though. Digital technology has also enabled electronic prescribing, where prescriptions can be sent directly from a family doctor to a pharmacy.  This is another life-saving advancement for patients. A meta-analysis found that this method reduced preventable adverse drug events, improved care processes, and increased adherence to guidelines.

Digital health is also quickly expanding the use of telemedicine. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of telemedicine increased by 38x. At a time when many were concerned about seeking in-person care, technology provided a safe option for providers to engage and treat patients from a distance. There have been other benefits too, providers report that telemedicine has enabled them to deliver more comprehensive quality care, while patients now have expanded access to specialist care and fewer concerns about being able to access their provider.

COVID-19 also disrupted research, stopping over 300 clinical trials and leaving many potential drugs abandoned without the data needed to seek regulatory approval. Digital technology has allowed researchers to include online recruitment, assessment, virtual visits and data collection. These types of trials are known as hybrid or decentralized clinical trials - and they are transforming clinical research. Not only was this technology instrumental in keeping many trials going through the pandemic, but it also allows for expanded access, enabling a more diverse trial population. This increase in diversity will help researchers collect more real-world applicable data, helping to monitor drugs’ effects and improve safety for a greater variety of patient populations. 

Changing the face of clinical care with virtual wards

All of these digital technologies are being used in a new, rapidly growing area known as virtual wards. Unlike traditional wards, Huma’s virtual ward solution allows for a “hospital at home” experience. These programmes combine the best of EHRs and telemedicine. By connecting patients with clinical teams, patients can recover in the safety and comfort of their homes while the clinical team still has access to near real-time visualisation of vital signs.

Huma’s remote patient monitoring platform gives hospitals access to the data needed to keep patients at home and ensure providers are alerted to any changes in patient's health.

A 12-week pilot program of patients with heart failure found this remote patient monitoring approach helped avoid admissions, facilitate early discharge, and dramatically reduce the time it takes to optimise patients’ medications. Over the course of the study, patients were given the option to be monitored remotely until the date of their cardiac surgery. The platform walked them through a questionnaire to determine their symptoms and rate them on a scale of 1 to 4. Clinicians were then able to access this data through a web-based clinical dashboard and could prompt action for specific patients when needed.

In total, 525 patients took part in the study, and 9.71% were identified as being at risk of deteriorating based on the data provided. These patients were subsequently escalated and had their surgical dates moved accordingly. The virtual ward platform allowed the clinical team to quickly and easily triage a large cohort of patients to ensure those in need of more urgent care received it.

Along with improvements in remote care, Huma’s remote monitoring platform was designed with patient safety at the centre. Over the last decade of development, we have continued to iterate and improve our platform based on different data points and collected hours of qualitative insights. This has enabled us to build a platform that is easy for both providers and patients to use. With better patient engagement, we are able to help providers achieve better health outcomes.

Technology should work around people’s needs, not the other way around. Huma’s platform has the potential to almost double clinical capacity while reducing admission rates by 30% – thereby reducing the burden on providers and keeping patients safe by allowing them the freedom to recover at home.