Interview and article by Christine Clark
Dr Maureen Spargo and Dr Nicola Goodfellow describe how SHAPES, a pan-European digital healthcare project is being put into action in Northern Ireland.
The user-testing phase of the platform and digital solutions has just started and will run until end of August and then recruitment to the pilot will start in in September 2021.
“We aim to recruit 30 people for approximately four months to our pilot in Northern Ireland and potentially eligible participants will be identified through hospital clinics and community partner organisations. We are also working closely with colleagues in Spain, the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Germany to run some of the pilots in their healthcare systems”, says Dr Goodfellow. Establishing that people are sufficiently tech-savvy will form part of eligibility criteria. “Participants will need to have access to and be able to use Android tablets and /or smart phone devices and also have self-reported stable Wi-Fi connectivity”, she adds.
A wide range of evaluation methods will be used including questionnaires that explore patient and clinician reported outcomes, interviews and analyses of usage data of the apps and digital solutions. The outcomes will then be measured against key performance indicators (KPIs) which have been developed specifically for the pilot. Selected evaluation frameworks are also being applied e.g. the Momentum framework which identifies critical success factors needed to take telemedicine from the pilot phase to large scale deployment and the Model for Assessment of Telemedicine (MAST) evaluation framework which can be used to assess the effectiveness and contribution of telemedicine applications to the quality of care.
Part of the KPIs will involve measuring participants’ health status at the start and end of the pilot phase. “The length of the pilot and the duration of follow up and numbers of participants means that we are not looking for clinical significance in many of the changes in health outcomes – but what we are looking for is an indication that there is some sort of benefit”, explains Dr Spargo. This will include indicators such as hospitalisations and adherence to medication.
“There’ll be much more work to be done before the SHAPES platform can be deployed at a larger scale but by conducting the pilot and collecting the necessary information for the valuation framework we’ll be better informed as to how SHAPES can benefit this population”, she says
Covid-19 – help or hindrance?
As with everything else over the past year the covid-19 pandemic has introduced additional challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, the covid-19 pandemic has stimulated interest in technology and accelerated adoption of technology and technology for health. However, when covid-19 is not the main area of interest for a particular research project there have been challenges. “It is a bit trickier because we are looking at participants who are over age of 65 – so they would fall into that more vulnerable group – and it’s tricky to think of problem solving and trying to include these people in study without actually, physically contacting them”, acknowledges Dr Goodfellow.
Another opportunity that has arisen within the framework of the specific ‘use case’ is the evaluation of a digital solution offered by one of the technical partners [of MOIC] that helps monitor symptoms in patients who either are covid-positive or suspected of being covid-positive. “It’s a way of patients documenting how they feel every day and then there being some sort of safety net for any worsening of symptoms that perhaps would require further investigation – so that there’s that sort of security and remote monitoring that is being offered through the solutions. We are not sure what effects of the vaccination programme will have on this particular aspect of our ‘use case’ in the pilot, but things are changing so quickly so we don’t really know what’s round the corner”, says Dr Spargo.