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NHS should provide fitness trackers for vulnerable patients, says think tank

Vulnerable patients should be prescribed fitness trackers on the NHS, according to a new report. 

The study, by think tank Social Market Foundation (SMF), evaluated the potential of digital technology in primary and secondary care.

It recommended that devices and wearables be prescribed ‘where there is a clear health need’ to individuals who cannot otherwise afford this technology. 

The report found that wearable technology could be beneficial in preventing and managing diseases, however it could also exacerbate existing health inequalities among poor and disabled patients who are unable to afford these devices. 

It recommended that using ‘devices individuals already own or want to own’ could reduce the burden on the NHS to provide the technology. 

The evaluation, which analysed data from NHS England GP patient survey, the digital maturity index and CCG improvement and assessment framework, found that wearable technology could help predict and diagnose diseases.

It follows a pilot implemented in 2017 as part of the NHS Diabetes prevention programme, which prescribed wristbands to patients from 52 practices in Somerset to monitor activity, sleep patterns and encourage physical activity to prevent the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Remote monitoring has been an available on prescription since April, where eligible patients can receive wearable sensors such as the Freestyle Libre, which regularly monitors patients’ blood glucose and blood pressure, doing away with the need for traditional finger prick blood tests.

The NHS plans to integrate data from wearable technology and lifestyle apps into the NHS app by 2021, and additionally link the data to the patient’s record, according to a report by Health Education England from February.