Decision tool gets to the heart of the problem

Patients making choices about healthcare treatments need to fully understand their options, but unfortunately this does not always happen as well as it should in clinical practice.   

Grow MedTech is funding the development of a digital tool to help patients with heart disease to make more informed decisions about their treatment.

The new device is based on funded research, led by Professor Felicity Astin from the University of Huddersfield. The research team studied the way the process by which patients opted for a treatment called coronary angioplasty happened and surveyed the views of patients and cardiologists at ten NHS Trusts in England.    

Coronary angioplasty (CA) is one of the most common medical procedures worldwide and involves opening up partially blocked arteries in the heart. When this treatment is given to  people with stable heart disease unpleasant symptoms of angina can be relieved.

Professor Astin discovered that these patients were often opting for this treatment without a clear understanding of the risks and benefits – often mistakenly believing it would reduce their risk of future heart attacks.

Crucial funding

The multidisciplinary team – working with the NIHR Devices for Dignity MedTech Cooperative – decided to develop a digital decision aid that could be used by patients and health professionals to work together to ensure that patients are making informed choices about CA.

However, they struggled to find a funding source to cover the crucial gap between research findings and a prototype device – until they discovered Grow MedTech.

“There’s limited funding around for establishing feasibility and creating a prototype,” says Dr Emma Harris, Research Fellow in Patient Education and Communication at the University of Huddersfield.

“The support, contacts and commercial advice we’ve had from Grow MedTech has been fundamental in helping us to take the project forward.” 

Using the Grow MedTech Proof of Feasibility award, the team set up a working group involving expert patients, doctors and nurses working in cardiology, academics with expertise in cardiology care and decision aid development) and Devices for Dignity with their technological expertise.

They’ve run two workshops, one with patients who’ve undergone CA and the other with cardiology healthcare professionals, to get vital input on the content and working of the decision tool.

A personal decision

Based on this consultation, the team are now developing the content, while Devices for Dignity develop the software side. The tool is being designed to not only help patients understand the general risks and benefits of the treatment, but also what it might mean personally for them, in terms of their hobbies, future travel plans, medication side effects or lengths of hospital stay, for example.

Once the prototype is ready, it will be tested with patients who’ve recently undergone a CA and with cardiologists and nurses. This will involve twenty participants across two NHS trusts, to help understand how the tool can be made flexible enough to fit into different healthcare pathways.

“Involving end users, both the patients and the clinicians, in the design of the tool is a critical part of the project,” explains Dr Harris. “Ultimately this tool can help them both – ensuring clinicians are able to do their job well in terms of informed consent and that patients make the best decision for them personally.

“It’s been really helpful to have Dr Luke Watson, our Grow MedTech Technology Innovation Manager, to go to for advice on the commercial side. He’s worked directly with Devices for Dignity on issues such as IP and copyright, freeing us up to do what we do best – the research and work with stakeholders.”

Professor Astin agrees: ‘We want to ensure that the research has an impact on clinical practice to improve patient care and the Grow MedTech support is helping to make this happen.”