Clinical Research Office. A partnership between Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield

Innovative digital app fast-tracked to help motor neurone disease patients during COVID-19 pandemic

An innovative digital app which enables healthcare professionals to remotely monitor and support patients who have motor neuron disease has been fast-tracked for use by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They can also get help and advice on how to manage their condition and access troubleshooting advice for the medical equipment they have to help manage their symptoms at home.

The clinical requirements of the technology have been delivered by MyPathway, a software platform enabling remote healthcare, built by West Yorkshire technology firm Advanced Digital Innovation (UK) Limited (ADI.)

Motor neuron disease is an incurable illness leading to muscle wastage and loss of control of movement, speech and breathing.

For Rachel Jones, who was diagnosed with motor neuron disease five years ago, the debilitating condition has left her with weakness in her hands and legs. She also struggles to breathe without the support of a specialist breathing machine.

As one of only 22 centres of excellence for motor neuron disease, Rachel used to regularly make the extended journey to Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital to access her long-term follow-up care.

But the COVID-19 outbreak meant that Rachel, and other highly vulnerable motor neuron disease patients, were at greater risk of suffering from the ill effects of the virus.

With the launch of the new digital app already scheduled for late 2020, clinicians and scientists from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and the University of Sheffield worked with ADI to fast-track the development so that patients could access support remotely straight away, minimising their COVID-19 risk and supporting them to manage their own care needs at home without the need for a long-distance journey.

“It makes such a difference,” said Rachel. “I was waking up in the morning with a fuzzy head and feeling unbalanced. But thanks to the online system the specialist team at Sheffield worked out that the flow on my breathing machine needed revising. I was sent a different mask and a new bit of computer hardware. Within a matter of weeks it completely changed how I was feeling.

"I live just outside Lincoln so it’s an hour and half each way to get to Sheffield, plus there’s the time it takes to have your appointment, whereas with the app I get sent the questionnaire and I can complete it in my own time. Before it was a long, tiring day, especially as fatigue is one of the big things I battle with, but the app makes it really easy. My husband also managed to access a carer’s assessment. It’s been absolutely fantastic.”

Professor Chris McDermott, Consultant Neurologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and Professor of Translational Neurology at the University of Sheffield, said: “Motor neuron disease is a terrible, muscle-wasting disease that leaves patients unable to do the simplest of tasks, such as eating, walking and talking. The emotional and psychological effects can also be extremely difficult to deal with. Not only is this app helping to improve the quality of life for a highly vulnerable group of patients, but it is also helping them to stay connected with their specialist motor neuron disease care team without having to travel long distances both during and beyond the pandemic.”

John Eaglesham, Chief Executive for Advanced Digital Innovation, said: “This is a fantastic example of how a unique partnership between health technology companies and the NHS can work together to offer innovative solutions to care during and beyond the current pandemic.”