A study has found that admissions and hospital bed days were both reduced by 50% for high-risk COPD patients using a digital support service, reducing the burden on over-stretched healthcare services.  

Using a digital support service can reduce the time patients with high-risk chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) spend in hospital each year, according to NHS researchers. 

COPD, a long-term progressive lung disease that causes narrowing of the airways and difficulty breathing, affects more than 1.2 million people in the UK and almost 30,000 die from it each year.  

The disease is predicted to cost the NHS £2.5 billion each year by 2030, mainly because of the expense of emergency hospital admissions due to COPD exacerbations. The research was focused on how to support patients with self-management.

Using AI and data to support patients

 The study published this week in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease found that hospital admissions and bed days were both cut in half for people who used the digital support service from health tech firm Lenus Health, which uses patient-generated data and AI to make existing care pathways more efficient. 

Researchers at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHS GGC) found that providing patients with a digital support service could potentially relieve the burden on NHS services by reducing hospital admissions and days patients spend occupying hospital beds each year. 

They assessed data from 83 patients with severe COPD after 12-24 months of access to a digital service co-designed with Lenus Health, which included a patient app, clinician dashboard and support website.  

The RECEIVER trial participants were able to input data about their symptoms and message clinicians through the app. They could also access self-management advice.  During the period observed, the number of hospital admissions and respiratory-related occupied bed days were reduced by around 50% for trial participants. 

In the year before using the digital service patients spent an average of 15 days in hospital beds, compared to just seven days the year after taking part in the trial. 

Patients from a matched control cohort, who did not have access to the digital service, spent around five days a year more in hospital beds during the year after the study, with an average of 12 occupied bed days per patient. 

Meanwhile, people using the digital service had around one hospital admission per year compared to more than 1.67 days for the control cohort. Patients using the digital service also had a lower 12-month mortality rate of 16.9% compared to 24.1% in the control cohort. 

NHS GGC consultant physician Professor Chris Carlin, who co-led the study, said: “The digital service helps patients by reducing anxieties, providing clinical support, landing the interventions that reduce exacerbation frequency and giving them the tools to recognise and either self-treat or get support for their flare-ups before they reach crisis point.” 

One of the most surprising findings of the study, according to the researchers, was that patients continued to regularly use the digital service throughout the 12- 24 months of follow up.

On average, patients were completing four daily COPD assessment tests (CAT) a week.  The study found that patients of all backgrounds engaged with the digital service and reported finding it easy to use. 

Prof Carlin added: “This shows how digital can bridge some of the healthcare access divide, which is unusual for a clinical trial in a new technology.” 

Lenus is focused on creating end-to-end pathway solutions for chronic diseases in the respiratory and cardiovascular areas, encompassing diagnostics, treatment and risk stratification and prioritisation, according to Jim McNair, the company’s business development director.

Speaking on the sidelines of this week’s HETT conference in London, McNair said: “We’ve really focused on admission avoidance, so how do we keep people out of hospital at the end of the day,” he told Digital Health News, noting that respiratory and cardio conditions are often the leading reasons for hospital admissions.

“Our vision is, how can you join up and coordinate care between community, primary and secondary care to really be proactive in intervening with this patient.”