An independent NICE committee has recommended the use of these technology platforms to be used in “virtual wards”, sometimes referred to as “hospitals at home”. Virtual ward platform technologies include 3 major parts: a patient-facing app or website, associated wearable medical devices, and a digital platform for healthcare professionals.

A patient’s temperature, heart rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure and respiratory rate can all be monitored and sent back to health care professionals, often automatically. Some platforms also include patient questionnaires that are sent back to physicians.

The platform will be used more widely to monitor people over the age of 16 with ARI at their usual place of residence, allowing people to be monitored from home without prior hospital discharge or hospitalisation. And in return the hospital beds will be free. The draft guidance states that virtual wards could potentially reduce pressure on other aspects of the care system, including primary care appointments and emergency hospital attendance.

Admission to the virtual ward follows a shared decision-making conversation between the patient, their carers and the clinical team. Patients and/or their caregivers will also need training and the confidence, motivation and skills to be able to use the virtual ward platform and associated medical equipment while at home.

Patients are provided with a telephone number to call for advice or assistance between 8am and 8pm, seven days a week. Instructions are also given on who to contact outside these hours.

NICE has been asked to provide guidance on virtual ward technologies for the treatment of ARI as a significant proportion of people with these illnesses require urgent care from their GP or hospital.

Mark Chapman, interim director of medical technology and digital assessment at NICE, said: “The NHS is under pressure and giving people with severe respiratory infection the chance to be monitored from the safety of their own home or care home can help manage capacity in hospitals.

“The evidence shows that virtual wards are safe and may be an option for people who are comfortable using technology to monitor their condition away from a hospital ward.

“Using these innovative new technology platforms in a carefully managed NHS environment will enable us to generate evidence to further understand the benefits to patients and the wider health system of the use of virtual wards.”

Health Minister Helen Whiteley said: “Virtual wards are already allowing thousands of patients to recover in the comfort of their homes. Expanding them to help people with acute respiratory infections will give more patients the option of recovering at home. At the same time, it frees up beds for those who need to be admitted to the hospital.

“This draft guidance suggests that patients can be monitored at home as well as if they are being treated in hospital.

“As part of our urgent and emergency care recovery plan the NHS will create 5,000 hospital beds by winter as well as an additional 10,000 virtual ward beds.”

Evidence presented to the independent committee showed that people who were treated in hospital had similar outcomes compared to virtual wards. Other evidence showed that people admitted to virtual wards were comfortable using the technology, following training provided by a healthcare professional.

Evidence has also shown that virtual ward platform technologies are potentially cost-saving for the NHS. Analysis by NICE’s External Evaluation Group estimated that the technologies saved around £872 per person compared to inpatient care, and £115 per person compared to home care without technology enabled virtual wards is of. However, there is still some uncertainty over how much the NHS will save using virtual wards, so further evidence will need to be produced over the next four years to establish the benefits in practice.

Consultation has now begun on the recommendations through Further comments must be submitted by Friday 1 September 2023.

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