BT’s ‘virtual wards’ project aims to give the NHS some new tech tools

doctor typing on computer keyboard in office. online consultation

UK telecoms group BT has launched a ‘virtual wards’ programme, designed to give the NHS and other healthcare providers some technological solutions to patient care, including apps, AI monitoring and online consultations.

The firm pitches virtual wards as allowing ‘patients access to the healthcare services they need remotely, safely and conveniently, outside of a hospital setting’ – which seems to mean providing some form of monitoring or consultation service to patients at home.

Examples of this are provided as devices that monitor health conditions like COPD and heart disease, and AI systems that capture health information in real time and enable doctors to perform ‘virtual ward rounds,’ which is being delivered by one of its partners Feebris.

BT is also teaming up other health-focussed technology companies such as my mhealth, a ‘digital therapeutic platform’ which provides personalised ‘digital interventions’ for patients with long-term conditions such as asthma, COPD, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“With health services facing exceptional demand – as thousands of patients await discharge and pressure on clinicians grows – we are launching our virtual ward and virtual care programme at a critical time for the NHS,” said Professor Sultan Mahmud, BT’s Director of Healthcare. “These new virtual healthcare partnerships will help deliver a better service for everyone – enabling clinicians to safely monitor patients at home or via community care, freeing up hospital beds for those who really need them, and relieving the pressure on our frontline services.”

BT also teased that it is developing a broader virtual ward solution, designed to ‘enhance and accelerate the impact of these types of service for health providers.’ We’re told the new product aims to solve some of the biggest challenges in healthcare settings, ‘drawing on new partnerships as well as new technology to support clinicians and patients directly.’ Which is nice and vague. It will be launched later this year, whatever it is.

Talk of ‘virtual wards’ and ‘unlocking the power of technologies’ are a bit vague, and it’s not crystal clear from this what the plan is. But the crux of it seems to be about providing healthcare virtually in order that a patient wouldn’t need to come into a hospital or GP surgery, therefore relieving some pressure on the struggling NHS.

If such apps and devices can be made to reduce waiting lists or generally improve the situation in hospitals and healthcare facilities across the UK, then it can be filed firmly in the ‘useful application of technology’ folder. We’ll have to see how effective the things it talks about here turn out to be for both doctors and patients, and whatever this under development ‘broader virtual ward solution’, which BT coyly alluded to, turns out to actually be.


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