If there was one key message coming out of the Health and Care Innovation Expo 2017, it’s that it’s all about digital. Am I surprised? Not at all. In the three years that I’ve been attending the expo, the move towards a digital NHS has progressed exponentially. Digital technologies are the norm and importantly, the public both expects and embraces these products in their daily lives.
The expo exhibition hall was filled with heathtech companies and the digital health zone was packed to the gills. Companies including Amazon, Google Could, Now Heathcare and Teva had a clear and strong presence at the event highlighting the sector’s ability to pull in technological heavyweights – not bad for a show that’s only been running since 2014. It’s a big thumbs up to the businesses that have been pushing back the boundaries of healthcare, the early adopters of the tech and of course the NHS which has implemented programmes to ensure that roll-out and access to digital technology is on-track and successful for both clinicians and patients.
When we launched Digital Health Age in 2014, it would be fair to say that we encountered a fair amount of negativity, and still do. For some reason, there are individuals who feel that technology isn’t going to work in healthcare. Presumably patients still want to ring surgeries and listen to hold music for 20 minutes each time they want an appointment? I guess those same patients would prefer to travel to their surgery for repeat prescriptions rather than re-order online? I’m also guessing that faced with a speedy online or Skype consultation they would rather hang out in a doctor’s surgery catching an illness they didn’t come in with? Oh and don’t forget the people who have repeated hospital visits and like to see their doctor plough through paper notes each clinic appointment rather than have their notes come up on a computer screen. And last but not least let’s not forget the mass of population that doesn’t want to be able to monitor their condition at home, sending their results to their doctor digitally, rather than trekking to a hospital. I guess these are in the same camp of people that wouldn’t benefit from using the NHS app library to help deal with health issues such as diabetes, anxiety, COPD or depression.
Of course, there will be an element of the population that prefers the way it’s always been. Not everyone is tech savvy and we need to remember that personal face-to-face interactions are sometimes welcomed by those that live alone, for example. For the rest of us, this technology has of course, been a long time coming and in an age when we book, buy and monitor virtually everything online, why wouldn’t dealing with our health be part of that movement too?
On opening day of the expo, Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham spoke about a ‘patient-centred service’ for the NHS. This is what digital offers. Putting us all in control of how we select and use services is at the heart of the digital offering. Burnham stressed the importance of making the transition in the NHS from a 20th century treatment service to a 21st century health promotion and life service. This is where digitally enabled services come into their own.
Juliet Bauer, NHS England’s director digital experience, discussed her aim to deliver digital health services. Professor Keith McNeill, NHS England’s CIO and CCIO declared ‘we need data’ and recognised the need to engage people on the ground. There’s no denying this is what digital technology does. NHS England head, Simon Stevens, demonstrated commitment to digital technology in his intent to continue to develop the successful Test Bed Programme as the NHS goes into its 70th year. Here seven sites have been working with 40 innovators, 51 digital technology products, eight evaluation teams and five voluntary sector organisations to understand which products and processes can save and transform lives, at the same or lower cost than current practice. Digital clearly has a very valid role to play.
The NICE session on digital therapies: Enhancing treatment for depression, anxiety disorders and medically unexplained symptoms of products offer benefits including flexibility, out of hours treatment, at-home access and can reduce a sense of stigma. Of course, they are not without challenges – selecting the correct treatment and monitoring effectiveness may be two areas that need additional attention.
However, digitally-enabled treatment means that mental health schemes are being developed to allow users to self-triage and be directed to the most appropriate care for them. We also have programmes that will allow access from Twitter and social media, meaning greater scope for reaching those that need them and may not want to talk about it face-to-face.
The proof is in the pudding as they say and with health secretary Jeremy Hunt pledging that every patient should be able to access their medical records and book a GP’s appointment via an app by 2018, it’s very clear that the NHS means business where digital is concerned. With the next ten years set to be about ‘patient power’ there’s a lot to look forward to as the NHS puts its money where its mouth is on terms of digitally-enabled services. It’s an exciting time ahead indeed.