The role of technology in prevention of multiple long-term conditions



The second in our series of pieces about our health summit, we focus on the role of technology in preventing people from getting one or more long-term conditions.

The saying is that “prevention is better than cure” — but it can be challenging within a healthcare setting to incentivise both patients and budget holders to make an investment or change today for a long term gain.

That being said; identifying those at risk of LTCs early and providing solutions and services that help to keep conditions at bay will ultimately have a long term impact on healthcare outcomes, utilisation and expenditure; with less likelihood of hospital admissions; prescription charges and ultimately (perhaps more importantly) a better quality of life for the patient.

Julian Blake introduced Prevention to the Summit

Julian Blake introduced Prevention to the Summit

Julian Blake, Director and Editor of  Digital Agenda, facilitated the conversation between Chris Greenway, Assistant Director, Adult Social Care, Harrow Council and Sinead Daly, Innovation Manager at ukactive.

Chris Greenway kicked off by demonstrating the Harrow Council social prescribing platform that they developed and is now linked to people’s person health budgets.

Chris explained there is a vision to push the IBM Watson (machine learning) powered technology for use with the prevention of LTCs, bringing forward a community based prevention strategy.

The second panelist, Sinead Daly, introduced ukactive. Their aim is to promote physical activity with a view to avoiding the estimated £20 billion spent in the UK due to the effects of inactivity. This is a bold goal but the challenges to people attaining good levels of physical activity were clearly outlined and include a number of challenges:

  • Lack of accessibility either due to location or cost
  • The rise (and then ditching) of wearable technology (e.g. FitBit; JawBone)  with the average life span of 5 months
  • Engaging people who are not active at all whom we need to reach the most.
Sinead, Chris and Julian carrying on the conversation

Sinead, Chris and Julian carrying on the conversation

In order to spark innovation in the sector to focus on these challenges, ukactive will be launching their second 12-week accelerator to promote innovation in this space. The accelerator will provide support and mentorship to startups over the programme – check their website for the launch later in October here.

The floor was then opened for questions:

Q: Prevention focuses on habit based changes and we know these are challenging so, how do you incentivise people to participate? What are the incentives used in these products to help drive engagement?

Chris explained that in Harrow they are using IBM Watson to spot trends in the system so that they can flag relevant content and services., for example,  services in particular languages to help engage people where English isn’t a first language. They have also had success in linking people’s personal health accounts to the programme which works well.

Q: How do you reach out to people beyond the “worried well” and engage those most in need to support?

Sinead said that this is ukactive's main motivator and they are looking to support things that make it easier to access physical activity such as up-skilling teachers to provide activity in the classroom, working with local authorities to engage the community, and leaning on startups in the space to provide novel solutions.

Q. Where have the data sets for the IBM Watson programme come from and has this been a challenge?

There was a large debate from the audience of the availability of data sets to “feed” the Watson programme to ensure there is enough data for the system to work effectively . Chris explained that through work already being done in Harrow over the last four years a number of the data sets have already manually been linked; which was a big help in the overall success of the project so far.


Is physical activity an epidemic?

Sinead spoke about looking at the positive impact that can happen, rather than focusing on the negative. Chris and Sinead agreed there is a big push in the social care sector to encourage people to be fit and health and maintain their health and wellbeing.

Q. How are the outcomes of social prescribing validated? How do you show that activity provides value?

Harrow obtained baseline data on Quality of Life, Dignity, Respect and Social Wellbeing of users and have been tracking and monitoring them throughout the process. At ukactive they are looking at the number of acquisitions on their programmes and access impact of the activities that they support.

Q. IT based programmes face challenges in terms of digital literacy from users. How has this been overcome?

In both cases, Chris and Sinead highlighted the importance of co-design with service users, or carers for the service users, to ensure that you are meeting people where they are.

Prevention requires innovation

The message from both Chris and Sinead is that the the sector is ripe for innovations. Harrow’s work on linking the community initiatives is a step in helping people to navigate the complex web of services that are available at a community level; perhaps coupled with some of the exports from the ukactive Accelerator there will start to be products that help to provide maximum long term health benefits.

It seems that there is overall unmet need in the prevention space to bring about a change in behaviour particularly in those who are not highly activated towards their health.

If you have ideas on how to address this issue we suggest you get testing and apply at:!

We're exploring the spectrum of approaches to multiple LTCs in a series of blogs. Catch up on the others here.