Paediatrics and the collision with tech

As we look forward to this May's RCPCH Conference, keynote speaker Professor Sam Shah, Digital Health Research Lead, UCL Global Business School for Health and Senior Advisor for Healthtech and Behaviour Change at Freuds, gives us a preview of what he will be taking about at our big event.
Professor Sam Shah

Over the last few decades, clinicians from all backgrounds will have been increasingly aware that children aren’t just small adults - they have their own unique physiology, immunology and pathologies requiring precise, personalised management.

The implementation of digital health solutions in the world of paediatric care can't be that different, creating bespoke solutions that are fit for adoption by children, parents, carers and the healthcare professionals involved in their care.

Advanced screening

Newborn screening has been a mainstay in the NHS for over five decades and has had a profound impact on reducing the impact of inherited conditions. Genetics is continuing to grow in both significance and accessibility, and we may soon reach a point where we can discover someone’s full genome on their first day of life.

This level of medical data may allow us to make earlier and more personalised interventions in a way that was previously only imaginable. With the power of information comes the burden of governance and how we decide who has responsibility for this information, and how it is eventually ‘handed-over’ to a child will be an area of contention.

The visual and hearing systems are two other favourable areas for screening. And gamified apps may lead the way, reducing the burden on the health system and detecting abnormalities earlier.

Apps and wearables

Non-invasive monitoring solutions - such as the 'Owlet Smart Sock' baby monitor - can be used from the first days of life to improve detection of abnormal vital signs. This allows our youngest patients to be monitored in the safe environment of their own homes instead of a noisy hospital ward. 

Fitness tracking wearables are the foundation of a booming wellness industry. Creating user-friendly solutions for children with the caveat of age-appropriate rewards for levels of activity could be useful in tackling the growing obesity problem. 

Technology can enhance the care of chronic conditions in children such as asthma and type 1 diabetes mellitus. Apps and plugins offer feedback on inhaler technique and camera analysis of different food types, and their impact on blood glucose (the 'mySugr' diabetes app, based in Vienna, is an example) could be pioneering in boosting the involvement of the paediatric patient in their own medical condition.

When it comes to modern childcare and sleepover culture, it can often be a scary task for parents to rushedly hand over their child’s medical information to someone who doesn’t know them too well. Digital solutions such as an Apple Wallet health passport or allergy card could be instrumental in improving the ease of this handover and the safety of children with complex allergies. 

These solutions not only make life easier for children and their families, but also reduce the burden on the healthcare system by allowing for remote monitoring and management.

The power of gamification

By turning assessments and interventions into games, we can engage children and make the process of managing their health more fun and interactive. This is particularly important when it comes to emotional and social health, where digital solutions can help those with behavioural challenges. Often the wait between visits to a health professional is long, and by using apps (such as 'Spectrum AI', an app to help children with neurological disorders) to deliver applied behaviour analysis between sessions could be valuable to both the patient and the healthcare professional.

Anxiety is an important area of focus. 'Little Journey' incorporates interactive, age-appropriate content designed to psychologically prepare and support families through healthcare interactions. For teenagers, the rates of social isolation and anxiety are at record highs. Portable coaches, built with generative AI, could play an important role in coaching teens through anxiety-loaded moments.

Thinking forward

Digital health solutions are not meant to replace the human touch of paediatricians and healthcare professionals but rather to complement their work, reduce the burden and help support effective care. As insights derived from big data allow further personalisation of treatment, we must work with our highly-skilled paediatricians to tailor treatments and associated communication to the specific needs of each child and their family. And as digital health solutions are developed they must learn from prior failures and act in accordance with regulations relating to their safety and governance. 

Digital health solutions have enormous potential to enhance the way we provide paediatric care. But they must be developed with the unique needs of children in mind. By involving children and their families in the development process and focusing on areas such as advanced screening, apps and wearables, and gamification, we can create solutions that are both effective and engaging.

As we move forward, it is important that we continue to monitor and regulate the use of these solutions to ensure that they are safe and effective, ultimately improving outcomes for children globally.

Join the conversation, book your delegate place at this year’s RCPCH Conference.

Note that any reference to products and services are provided by the author and do not imply RCPCH endorsement.