Health Call’s Digital Care Home app will play a central role in a multimillion-pound health data initiative, which brings together researchers from across the North of England to address major health challenges.

The Northern Better Care Partnership (Health Data Research UK North) aims to ensure patients receive the best possible care and services, benefiting some of the most vulnerable patient groups who are at greatest risk of COVID-19 by supporting the better use of data and analytical tools.

The £3.4m partnership, which is part-funded by Health Data Research UK, will initially focus on three projects towards better care for elderly people living with frailty. Each project will employ extensive, available data and advanced analytical techniques to gain actionable insights for optimising the delivery of care.  The partnership is led by Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed at the University of Liverpool, and involves five other universities and over 10 NHS Trusts across the North.

The Health Call Digital Care Home (HCDCH) application will be at the centre of one of these projects, which will focus on improving monitoring of residents in care homes to detect deterioration.

Developed by Health Call with NHS and Local Authority partners, HCDCH enables care home staff to refer patients’ details to clinical teams using a website or app and it is also used for routine monitoring and earlier identification of deterioration by capturing regular observations to determine ‘the norm’ for residents.

Health Call has worked closely with partners in County Durham and Darlington on a project to roll out the technology across all care homes in the area. Currently, there are 110 care homes in County Durham and Darlington using the technology and a future roll-out of nearly 100 across the rest of the North East and North Cumbria is planned.

Over the next three years, researchers across the North, led by Graham King in Newcastle and Professor Suzanne Mason in Sheffield, will use the data collected from HCDCH to evaluate the impact of the technology on residents, staff, services and costs.

The evaluation will establish how the HCDCH application improves outcomes for residents in care homes, by more accurate and timely triaging of referrals when a resident becomes unwell. The information from the app is hoped to reduce unnecessary transport and admission to hospital for residents. Additional research will establish how clinical and care staff adapt to using the app and whether there are aspects of it that can facilitate wider take up.

The early findings of the project will be used to expand the research and implementation, firstly across other Northern cities, in collaboration with the Northern Health Science Alliance and the four Academic Health Science Networks, and subsequently UK-wide.

Graham King, an Associate Director in the HDR UK North partnership, Director at Health Call and Chief Information Officer at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said:

At a time when being digitally-connected is of the utmost importance both in our professional and personal lives, health data projects such as this have the potential to make a real difference to the way we deliver vital care services across the North.

The challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in the need for rapid adaptation within the health and social care system, specifically in relation to digital tools available to the care sector. The Health Call Digital Care Home service is a proven solution that has already impacted on patient care and service efficiencies in care homes across the region. It’s thanks to the scale of the HCDCH project and the functionality of the technology to collect data which can be easily aggregated across systems, that the Northern Better Care Partnership research project is possible.

The partnership, which is supported by a £1.2m investment from HDR UK and £2.2m from the partner institutions, brings together world-class universities, digitally-enabled NHS institutions and academic health science systems, including Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust – which are both part of the Health Call digital partnership.

Alongside the care homes project, the partnership will also initially focus on reducing the burden of use of anticholinergic medicines, and optimising prescribing of antibiotics, thereby reducing the potential for antimicrobial resistance.

Health Call is an NHS collaboration made up of seven NHS Foundation Trusts in the North East and North Cumbria, which delivers digital health solutions that are clinician-led, patient-centred and evidence-based. It was established in response to growing demand from patients to be able to interact with their personal health and care records through digital applications and services.

The Health Call partnership includes major players in digital health, boasting two global digital exemplars and two global digital fast followers. The Trusts involved in Health Call are County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, North Tees and Hartlepool Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust and Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust.