Another day, another virtual event. Last week, I attended the Rewired Conference 2021: Digital Health, a conference dedicated to bringing together decision makers with established healthtech brands and start-ups. The event organisers certainly did not disappoint as one of the keynote speakers was Secretary of State, Matt Hancock, who gave an interesting and forward-looking address on how the Government aims to merge and integrate technology into the healthcare sector. Below, I have summarised his five main points:
Firstly, Matt Hancock noted how we needed to digitise more of the NHS, with the goal of ensuring that no-one is left behind in terms of innovation. Essentially, making sure that the whole sector moves forward in a unified manner. For many, the changes over the last year have been welcome, as he highlighted how 88% of clinicians wanted to retain the uses of technology in healthcare whilst 82% of clinicians said that they would like to continue to reduce the amount of everyday paperwork travelling through the system. To achieve this, he pledged to improve digital infrastructure for 30 more trusts.
Secondly, he wants to connect the healthcare system. As Hancock has previously mentioned in a NHS reforms speech in Parliament (see our blog on this), his objective is to maximise the benefits of free flowing data and in turn prevent the duplication of test records and repeated questions, a key administrative cost on the NHS. To add to this, his vision includes creating local records where patients themselves can access their own care data with ease. I think this is an interesting aim although, as noted by one of the speakers, the devil is truly in the detail. We need to understand what we are trying to achieve first and what our ideal outcomes would be. Data sharing can be hard to put into practice and coupled with this there are numerous security and privacy concerns that accompany such an innovation.
Thirdly, Hancock wants to use technology to change how care is given. Technology in itself isn’t a transforming force, but rather it becomes transformative when it is employed effectively by people; digital measures aren’t a bolt on solution that will independently bring success to the NHS.
His fourth point highlights the importance of the user journey when employing tech and how we need to reimagine the process and deliver it in the most appropriate way. A consistent data platform is vital and therefore private sector companies, who currently own the data, should not become barriers to life saving information.
Finally, he said it comes down to giving individuals, clinicians and patients alike, confidence to use the new technology. Simple guides that are easy to understand are a must for this to be successful.
A substantial feature of Hancock’s vision is to create an online space where patients can electronically update their own details, book online consultations and complete tasks that used to require a pen and paper. One concern that I think must be addressed by the Government is that the pandemic has truly spotlighted the digital divide in the country. If consultations become virtual, then we must ensure that everyone has access to the necessary equipment and that services are easy-to-use for the non tech savvy. If there isn’t enough forward- thinking on this, we risk creating new problems from a hopeful solution.
I also think that the pandemic has given us an opportunity to revamp our healthcare system and Matt Hancock has certainly understood this. I would say that modernisation needs to happen sooner rather than later because if we don’t grasp the opportunities now, things could return to what we had before and what we see as ‘normal’. It is important to recognise that technology can prepare us for future challenges. To conclude, any digital transformations need to be sustainable in the long term. Part of this relies on the process and speed of the transformation. If the Government modernises the system in a piecemeal approach then they could risk creating a disjointed system that doesn’t work for future generations. If they completely upheave the system then it is inevitable that some trusts or patients will be left behind. Striking the balance will be instrumental to the longevity of any reforms.