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Prevention is better than cure. Can digital improve the health of a nation?

The NHS Five Year Forward Plan (5YFP) warns that the nation needs to get serious about prevention. Could digital be the way to respond?

April 25th 2016

The NHS Five Year Forward View (5YFV) highlights the impending health and wellbeing gap:

“If the nation fails to get serious about prevention then recent progress in healthy life expectancies will stall, health inequalities will widen, and our ability to fund beneficial new treatments will be crowded-out by the need to spend billions of pounds on wholly avoidable illness.”

Against a backdrop of unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles, the NHS 5YFV paints an ominous picture of the nation’s health if we don’t start to tackle prevention.

Currently just 4% of the UK’s total healthcare budget is spent on prevention, while preventable long-term conditions call on 70% of the NHS budget. Diabetes UK estimates that the NHS is already spending about £10 billion a year on diabetes alone.

How can digital help?

Digital mHealth solutions offer an opportunity to take prevention interventions out to people where they live, and deliver them on their mobile phones. Interventions like Do Something Different’s Healthy Habits, Do Stress Less, No Diet DietLove Not Smoking or Manage my Diabetes programmes bring all kinds of prevention benefits, including the ability to:

  • Deliver texts (or email/app notifications) to prompt people to make the lifestyle changes they need, in small, doable actions
  • Help people head-off long-term conditions or manage conditions like diabetes without the need for expensive clinical resources
  • Target specific groups or wider populations via referral or social media
  • Be delivered at scale, to people’s mobile phones
  • Measure people’s health behaviours before and after the intervention
  • Personalise each individual’s programme to address their specific health improvement needs
  • Provide an online community for support, advice and further signposting

What difference can it make?

Prevention can make a huge difference to people’s health, well-being and quality of life, while significantly reducing lifetime costs for the NHS, CCG’s and Public Heath. Even a moderate early change in an individual’s behaviour can avert the onset of illness and deliver a sizeable return on investment. Research demonstrates that:

  • The UK’s over 50-year-olds eating an extra piece of fruit a day would result in a reduction in vascular disease of 8400 people pa (Briggs, 2013)
  • Even modest reductions in weight can have a profound impact on health. A weight reduction in the obese of just 5% significantly reduces the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease (Magdos et al, 2016)
  • Improving the anxiety and depression levels of those living with long-term conditions increases self-management and can reduce the cost of care by up to 45% (Naylor et al, 2012).

What’s next?

Do Something Different programmes, commissioned by Public Health and CCGs have achieved considerable shifts in preventive behaviours.  Surely now is the time to seriously invest in the power of digital, before the tsunami of preventable long term conditions becomes too great for health services to cope with.

Read the White Paper:

Prevention and the Five Year Forward View: Are digital technologies the way forward?