May 17, 2020

NHS Direct is the foundation of digital remote care

NHS Direct
health and symptom tracker service
3 min
NHS Direct
Written by Mark Snell Since 1997, NHS Direct has provided people in England with expert health advice, information and reassurance to help them care fo...

Written by Mark Snell

Since 1997, NHS Direct has provided people in England with expert health advice, information and reassurance to help them care for themselves at home, or to access appropriate healthcare using world-class telephone and web services. Each year around five million calls are made to its health information and advice line and the NHS Direct website receives over 18 million visits.

With an ever increasing demand from patients and the public to access services and information over the internet and other mobile channels, NHS Direct realised in 2009 there was a need for a significantly enhanced, personalised and cost-effective web offering. For this it needed new service delivery partners.

In December 2009, InferMed ( was chosen as the prime contractor and managed service provider of a vendor consortium made up of UK partners Rackspace, Sitecore, and Eduserv, to provide a fully managed service and rebuild, enhance and host the NHS Direct web and digital health services. The key focus of InferMed’s proposal was to enhance the NHS Direct online health and symptom checker service, using InferMed’s Arezzo clinical decision support technology.

At the heart of the online self-assessment service, Arezzo technology helps patients to identify the course of action or treatment appropriate for their own personal symptoms. A patient is asked a series of interactive questions relating to their condition and Arezzo generates a recommendation as to the action the patient should take next. Multiple outcomes are possible and the most appropriate is presented to the patient, along with the reasons for that recommendation.

England's NHS Direct now delivers clinically checked advice to patients, especially during periods of high demand and the NHS is reaping its benefits. For example, in its first year of operation, the use of the website health and symptom checkers resulted in 1.3m fewer visits to other healthcare professionals, including 0.7m visits to GPs. This resulted in an annual total saving of £57 million forthe NHS.

Costs to the NHS are further reduced as web interactions cost just pennies compared to around £32 for each GP interaction, or £220 for an emergency ambulance. Meanwhile, at its peak and following the introduction of the service on mobile device apps, the service was accessed by 20,000 users in one hour.

So what does the future hold for the service? Well, with advanced technology and a strategic vision of the future of healthcare, the InferMed consortium is laying the foundation for the NHS Direct of the future. By integrating personal health records, existing drug regimens and expert medical guidelines, Arezzo can not only assist hard-pressed doctors in consulting rooms, but support their patients at home with management of chronic conditions or even early detection of diseases such as cancer.

Duane Lawrence, the CEO of InferMed Limited, said, “We are delighted to be supporting NHS Direct as it leads the way in the adoption of advanced online services. These new clinical assessment tools are a forerunner of the way in which people will interact with the NHS in the future and are the foundation of digital remote care.”

Find out more about the NHS Direct health and symptom checkers:

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Jun 16, 2021

NHS opens 8 clinical trial sites to assess cancer treatment

2 min
NHS and OncoHost to launch clinical trials analysing cancer patients response to immunotherapy

The UK's National Health Service (NHS) is opening eight clinical trial sites to assess patients' responses to personalised cancer therapy. 

The trials will analyse how patients diagnosed with advanced melanoma or non-small cell lung cancer respond to immunotherapy, to help predict their response to treatment.  They will be hosted at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust facilities. 

Immunotherapy helps the body's own immune system fight cancer, but while it has achieved good results for some cancer patients, it is not successful for everyone. Finding ways to predict which people will respond to the treatment is a major area of research.

OncoHost, an oncology startup,  will provide advanced machine learning technology to develop personalised strategies aiming to improve the success rate of the cancer therapy. The trials will contribute to OncoHost’s ongoing PROPHETIC study, which uses the company’s host response profiling platform, PROphet®

“Immunotherapy has achieved excellent results in certain situations for several cancers, allowing patients to achieve longer control of their cancer with maintained quality of life and longer survival,” said Dr David Farrugia, Consultant Medical Oncologist at NHS, and chief investigator of all eight NHS clinical trial sites.

“However, success with immunotherapy is not guaranteed in every patient, so this PROPHETIC study is seeking to identify changes in proteins circulating in the blood which may help doctors to choose the best treatment for each patient." 

"I am excited that Gloucestershire Oncology Centre and its research department have this opportunity to contribute to this growing field of research and I am determined that our centre will make a leading national contribution in patient recruitment.”

Previous studies in the US and Israel have shown that PROphet® has high accuracy in predicting how patients with cancer will respond to various therapies.

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