Medical Matters - this week, Dr Matt Halkes, consultant anaesthetist, is clinical director of innovation and digital transformation at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, talks about an innovative new app called CONNECTPlus which is improving foot care with people with diabetes:
I suspect most people are aware that having diabetes carries the risk of serious health complications.
If not properly managed it can affect the heart, circulation, nerves, eyes and kidneys, but equally importantly diabetics are at risk of developing a wide range of problems with their feet.
Poorly controlled diabetes can lead to patients having impaired feeling in their feet due to nerve damage - neuropathy.
This means that they may not be aware of small cuts or sores – for example caused by poorly fitting shoes.
This, coupled with poor healing due to the poor circulation - another consequence of diabetes - means that these minor problems if left untreated can lead to foot ulcers, serious infections and even potentially amputations.
At least £1 in every £140 of NHS spending goes towards foot care for people with diabetes and more than 9,500 leg, toe or foot amputations a year in England are caused by diabetes.
So, this is a big problem for the NHS locally, regionally and nationally.
But more importantly having an ulcer - which can take weeks to heal - or an amputation seriously impacts on patients and their families.
The good news is that most foot problems can be prevented with good, regular foot care. For example, a simple daily foot check is recommended for all diabetic patients in order to detect and treat problems early.
Choosing the right footwear is also very important.
In order to support the 13,000 people currently living with diabetes in the Torbay area the podiatry team at Torbay Hospital have worked closely with digital health experts Health and Care Innovations Limited (HCI) to add resources to the CONNECTPlus app.
Whether patients are newly diagnosed or have been living with diabetes for some time they can now use the CONNECTPlus app to help them care for their feet.
Jennifer Williams, team lead with special interest in diabetes, said: “We are delighted to be able to use the CONNECTPlus app to accompany the care and treatment of people living with diabetes, providing 24/7 access to information and advice from our team on the causes and symptoms of diabetic foot, as well as vital foot care advice including daily checks, pressure ulcer prevention and the warning signs to look out for.”
The CONNECTPlus app at Torbay Hospital is an example of an innovation whose development has been driven specifically to meet the needs of patients and the clinical teams supporting their care.
For example patients identified that although they are happy to engage with digital healthcare technologies, they ideally wanted these resources available in one place.
This was particularly important for those with more than one long-term condition.
This directly influenced the unique design of CONNECTPlus which hosts information on multiple conditions and procedures in one app.
In addition to enabling patients to learn about their conditions it also provides information on when and how to contact clinical teams, supports them to manage appointments and medications and importantly monitor and track their symptoms.
Clinical teams find using the app releases valuable time for supporting those who can’t engage digitally or who have more complex needs.
Currently CONNECTPlus is being used by a number of specialities in the hospital, including rheumatology, neurology, diabetes, gastroenterology and orthopaedics, but as part of the trust’s digital strategy is due to be rolled out across other departments, such as cardiology and respiratory in the next few months.
CONNECTPlus also demonstrates the benefit of the hospital working in partnership with the expertise available in local companies such as HCI.
This collaboration has already led to the development of the largest library of patient information videos which are available to access via the video library link of the Trust’s public website or at https://videos.torbayandsouthdevon.nhs.uk
The CONNECTPlus app is available from the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. You can download it by searching for CONNECTPlus - look out for the teal logo.
Once downloaded, select Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust as the hospital, then choose ‘Diabetic Foot.’ There are no fees to use this service.
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