A glimpse at the NHS’s digital future

A glimpse at the NHS’s digital future
Close up of stethoscope on top of digital tablet

Doctor strikes, funding crises, lengthening waiting times: so much recent NHS focus has been on what it can’t do. So it’s refreshing to spend time seeing what it can do.

That was the main thrust of UK e-Health Week – an event held last week at Olympia in London. It’s easy to glibly say ‘the NHS needs to be more digital’. But what does this digital future look like?

Here are 8 things I learnt at UK e-Health Week:

  1. Get ready to have an online NHS account

TV’s Carrie Grant (broadcaster, carer, patient) wants to manage her health online. Specifically, she wants a digital NHS profile. And she’s not alone: the concept of online health accounts was a recurring theme throughout e-Health Week.

And it looks like online health profiles are about to become a reality. The Healthy London Partnership is developing ‘Citizen Accounts’ as part of the London Digital Programme. Once ready, they’ll be rolled out across London, and then beyond.

But it all relies on…

  1. “Interoperability”

The undoubted word of the week. Why? Because the UK is full of thousands of data management systems which – to put it in simple terms – can’t talk to one another. ‘Interoperability’ means enabling those data management systems to share information securely. To have a truly joined up digital health service, interoperability is a must.

A huge number of suppliers are offering interoperability solutions (at least half the exhibitors, by my reckoning). Making the right choices will be essential.

  1. If it works for millennials it will work for everyone 

“The future of the NHS is in the expectations of millennials.” So said Lord Victor Adebowale, Chief Executive of Turning Point and a Non-Executive Dirctor of NHS England.

He explained what he meant. Millennials know the value of their personal data. They aren’t afraid to hand it over but they’ll only do so if they clearly see how it’s going to benefit them. They want tech designed with them, not for them. And they want – and expect – health technology to prevent them getting ill.

Once we have an NHS that digitally-savvy young people are happy with, we’ll have a digital NHS that actually works.

  1. People are ok with self-monitoring

Despite media scare stories, patients seem happy to self-monitor their condition, or be remotely monitored, using digital tech.

One GP gave an example of how this can reduce the burden on primary care. He has a hypertension patient who monitors his own condition using a digital device. Every six months, the patient sends him a device read-out so he can check all is normal. The GP hasn’t needed to see the patient for two years.

  1. Genomics is a massive opportunity

NHS England is very keen to promote the 100,000 Genomes Project. In the words of their Chief Scientific Officer, Sue Hill, “the NHS has never risen to challenge so quickly”.

Let’s not get into the science of it here. Suffice to say, the project is already benefitting families of people with rare diseases. It’s being championed as a major British success story and one which also presents huge opportunities for the pharma industry to work with the NHS.

  1. The digital divide creates a health divide

17% of people in the UK don’t have broadband access. And even more people don’t have access to ‘decent’ broadband.

Without good broadband access there’s a risk that people will become increasingly cut-off from an ever-more-digitised health service. And, ironically, it’s probably those people who’ll need it most.

Improving broadband access needs to be a health priority.

  1. Internet of Things: it’s happening (in the NHS)!

The NHS has just launched two ‘Internet of Things Test Beds’. We took a look at one: a Digital Diabetes Coach in the West of England.

It’s about time someone started putting the IoT into action. We’ll be watching with interest.

  1. Government didn’t get slammed

Besides a wry note that last year’s keynote speaker, Jeremy Hunt, was nowhere to be seen, there seemed to be remarkably little complaining about the Government or a lack of funding.

The remaining barriers to a fully digitised NHS appear to be more technical than political. Overcoming these barriers should now be a priority. Because I want to start managing my health online.

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