How embracing technology can help our patients

Torbay Weekly

In our first in a series of MEDICAL MATTERS articles from Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Agne Straukiene, a consultant in neurology, talks about embracing technology and the benefits to patients.

Before the arrival of COVID-19, services across the NHS were piloting different technologies to make the best use of space and time for both patient and doctor.
I was already embedding technology into my practice before the pandemic. For people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), the six months after diagnosis can be very bewildering and they need lots of information, advice and support.
Of course, patients need some one-to-one time with an MS nurse and with me as their doctor, but it is equally important that they are well-informed about their condition and how they can learn to best manage it. The ConnectPlus app is perfect for providing such information and online support for people at a time that suits them.
Typically, we follow-up our MS patients every six months, so helping them to be aware of changes in their condition is really important. Using the app gives people the confidence to decide for themselves when they need a follow-up appointment and whether it should be over the phone or via video link, rather than face to face.
Mental health is as important as physical health. Research has shown that mindfulness meditation offers powerful health and wellbeing benefits. I am a registered Mindfulness Now teacher providing mindfulness sessions to people at MS group clinics. I have recorded some mindfulness sessions for the app, and during COVID-19 I updated the app with many ideas and advice on how to stay well.
My patients are always the best advocates for new ways of working and one recently said of the app: “I believe this app is a tool for empowerment and is actually something that encourages you to be resilient. It gives you the tools to work with the information, to actually do some exercises and notice some progress for yourself and think I can do this, I can cope.”
We are also in the process of launching a new patients’ self-management platform for more proactive use, this is called Multiple Sclerosis Patient Knows Best (MS PKB). This will give patients the opportunity to use patient information system that gives secure access to medical information (MS Symptoms tracker, blood results, clinical letters, library with various information resources and contacts) from any smartphone, tablet or computer.

The use of video consultations has become increasingly popular and increased five-fold during the pandemic with people reporting a high level of satisfaction with their experience. There is no need to take time off work to attend appointments in person, there is no travel time and associated costs such as parking, and there is no unnecessary exposure to circulating viruses. So, this is proving to be a really positive experience for patients – especially for people who are living with chronic diseases and are low-risk.
One of my patients, David Goddard, has been attending meetings virtually and says of his experience: “Video consultations are an efficient way to meet, especially for a routine consultation.  
“As I am in full time employment, it means I don't lose much working time while still allowing time for an unhurried consultation. I am now so used to video meetings that using the technology seemed second nature and did not get in the way of good communication."
Since we have increased the use of technology for patient appointments, we have noticed a reduced waiting time for people to be seen in our clinics. We have also been able to use our clinics to focus on areas that cannot be covered by remote appointments.
This is not a one size fits all approach: some patients will always need to be seen face to face, and different specialties will have different requirements. For people who are newly referred, I offer the choice of a face to face or virtual appointment and there will always be people who need a face to face assessment, so I still run traditional clinics. However, it is clear that during the last year we have seen the real benefits that technology can bring to patients and staff who work in healthcare settings.