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It’s time to put digital diabetes tools in the real world, with south London leading the way

Laura Semple, Programme Director for Diabetes and Stroke Prevention, on person-centred care planning and digital in the real world.

When it comes to diabetes, we all know that the statistics are both enormous and increasing. In south London alone there are an estimated 230,000 people living with diabetes. Nationally, the NHS spends £14 billion a year treating people with diabetes. That’s an astonishing £1.5 million every hour. And, as many of us working in diabetes treatment and Type 2 diabetes prevention in south London know, the vast majority of this is not on preventative care that will reap future benefits. It is spent treating complications, many of which are preventable if people receive the right support during the early stages of the condition.

It’s against this backdrop that we set about working with our partners, led by the South West London Health and Care Partnership, earlier this year to bid to test a new model of support for people living with Type 2 diabetes. The full team includes South London NHS commissioners and clinicians, Healum, Citizen UK, Year of Care partnerships and Oviva. Just this week, we’ve found out that our innovative bid to co-design a new support system with patients, maximising the opportunities from digital to support behaviour change as we do, has been successful and will receive more than £500,000 of public funding over 18 months.

One option would have been to try and find a digital substitute for the current way of working, insert it into local care plans and call it self-management. But too often, substituting with digital tools ticks boxes without radically improving care, because the digital tool doesn’t work seamlessly within the wider system of care.

We believe digital health tools workbest when there is a partnership between the patient, their GP and where necessary a team of specialist clinicians or coaches supervising results, coaching and encouraging. When this mix is in place the results can be powerful – weight loss, healthy blood glucose levels, increased physical activity, improved self-care because people feel more empowered and self-confident. These are just some of our biggest goals. And of course all of these bring savings in the longer term to the NHS thanks to fewer complications.

For that reason, the new south London Test Bed focuses just as much on training and care planning with primary care professionals as it does on new digital solutions. Our intervention starts by working with the wonderful Year of Care Partnerships to train GP practices to use a truly collaborative approach to care and support planning with their patients. New, co-designed care plans will be available to patients via an app and accessible to professionals across all care settings.

At this point, when the training and planning has taken place, digital can shine. Following their appointment patients receive an innovative video that presents their personal health data in an intriguing animation, explaining their individual results and what these mean for them as an individual. Using the app, patients will then access a wide range of support and resources to help them reach their goals, including with the helping hand of a dietitian coach from Oviva.

This fully integrated approach, that works with EMIS, considers the needs of primary care professionals as well as the needs of patients, right from the off. It’s not using digital as a simple substitute but placing digital as part of a wider mix in real world clinical settings.

We hope that by testing this model we’ll break down existing barriers to ‘self-management’ and show the power of brilliantly supported self-management. At its core, our aim is simple – real, lasting improvements to the lives of people living with Type 2 diabetes in South London, so that they can live the lives they want to lead without their condition getting too much in the way.

Read more about the Test Bed programme here