NHS England to offer free medical devices and apps in 2017

NHS England CEO Simon Stevens

In its latest digital health push, England's National Health Service (NHS) is offering remote monitoring medical devices and apps to help millions of people manage chronic conditions--for free.

The goal is to reduce patient deaths and hospitalizations by giving people with conditions such as heart disease a way to monitor their symptoms and address them before they become more serious. A panel will approve the first batch of 10 to 15 devices and apps later this year, The Guardian reported. They will be available to patients in England starting in April next year.

NHS England CEO Simon Stevens is hoping people who already use mobile apps such as Uber will adopt a digital approach to their health as well. If the devices and apps are widely used, they could save tens of thousands of lives a year, Stevens said, as cited by The Guardian.

AliveCor's smartphone-based electrocardiogram devices for the monitoring of atrial fibrillation are being considered for the scheme. Afib causes one-fifth of the 110,000 strokes that occur each year in England and costs the NHS more than £2.2 billion ($3.2 billion) to treat, according to The Guardian. The NHS is already providing patients in Portsmouth with the app MyCOPD to help people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, such as emphysema, manage their conditions.

To incentivize hospitals and tech companies to hit the ground running, Stevens will announce an overhaul of the health service's payment system, The Guardian reported. He will implement a "tariff"--the reimbursement a hospital receives for treatments--to encourage hospitals to use the technology more. And there is an opportunity for devices in development to be fast-tracked. In fact, AliveCor's smartphone ECGs have already received fast-track designation.

The NHS' drive to integrate digital health has had some hiccups, though. It previously made an effort to convert to electronic medical records, which failed. But in 2016 alone, the health service has been pouring cash into med tech and digital health. In March, the health service launched the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator, a program to encourage digital health companies to engage with the NHS to develop products to better meet the NHS' needs. And in February, the NHS pledged a total of £4.2 billion ($6 billion) in a range of digital health initiatives, including £750 million ($1.1 billion) on updating remote care, £250 million on data for outcomes research and £575 million to digitize the NHS and integrate apps and telehealth.

- here's the Guardian story