Accelerating digital adoption to improve the nation’s health
While recent decades have seen multiple initiatives to expand the use of technology and digital applications in the UK National Health Service (NHS), the UK Government has acknowledged in its strategy paper, "The Future of Healthcare", that ‘the state of online services, basic IT and clinical tools in healthcare is far behind where it needs to be’.1
Analysis by UK health regulator the Care Quality Commission indicates that take-up of digital services in the UK correlates with better quality ratings among secondary care providers. However, where you live - which CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) serves you and which GP practice and NHS Trust you use - still dictate whether you receive a digitally enabled or a more traditional service. Based on the NHS’ own data, digital maturity varies by more than a factor of three between the best and worst performing NHS Trusts. Levelling out these variations without suffocating innovation should be a priority.
So how can technology be adopted more quickly and widely by the NHS to improve patient care?
Key areas for focus
A recent report by the Social Market Foundation and supported by Atos explores how technology could be adopted more quickly and widely by the NHS to improve the care that patients receive and to drive better health outcomes. The report sought to answer the following questions:
- Which technologies could help prevent illnesses and promote good health outside of the traditional NHS services?
- What future steps can be taken through digital technology to improve health outcomes and the patient experience in primary and secondary care?
- How could these improvements manifest themselves across the patient journey or care pathway?
The report tracks the patient journey, from prevention and diagnosis in the community, into primary and secondary care, through into management of long-term conditions. In describing the patient journey, the report charts some evidence of slow and varied take-up of digital technologies in healthcare. In addition, as well as improving the care experience in primary and secondary care, the report argues that there are huge opportunities to use technology to reduce the burden on the NHS.
Widening the scope
It’s easy to see how healthcare’s ‘digital offer’ could be expanded for people who are already digitally enabled. For instance, with four in five UK consumers now owning smartphones, recent data from the Office of National Statistics shows that in the last decade there has been a significant increase in the proportion of individuals using the internet for health-related activities, increasing from 24% to 54%.
This could be further widened to harder-to-reach groups by, for instance, social prescribing of digital skills development for people with long-term conditions and the prescribing of devices and wearables, where there is a clear health need, for people who can’t afford to buy them.
Supporting broader health and wellbeing
There are equally important opportunities outside the NHS to use technology to reduce the need for people to come into physical contact with healthcare services. For example:
- Utilizing everyday wearable technologies to predict and diagnose disease, for instance to detect diabetes and hypertension
- Expanding use of apps to help patients with long-term conditions to self-manage, with remote monitoring and testing.
Clearly, there is huge potential for improving all aspects of health and wellbeing through better use of technology. Digital is a vital enabler for addressing central commitments in the NHS Long-term Plan, including more joined-up, coordinated care and more proactive, targeted services. Research by the Nuffield Trust has noted a consensus that healthcare around the world is at least a decade behind other industries in its use of information technology.2 It’s time to accelerate healthcare’s technological revolution.
1 NHS, Policy paper: The future of healthcare: our vision for digital, data and technology in health and care (2016)
2 Candace Imison, Sophie Castle-Clarke, Robert Watson and Nigel Edwards, Delivering the benefits of digital health care (2016)
Digital Vision for Digital Britain
This article is part of the Atos Digital Vision for Digital Britain opinion paper. At a time where the pace of technological change has never been so fast, we explore how Atos applies cutting-edge technologies to prepare our clients for a new digital era.