Home » Digital Health » Bridging the digital divide through community and patient collaboration

Uday Bose

Managing Director, Boehringer Ingelheim UK & Ireland

The lessons learned from the move to digital health services during COVID-19 need to be carried forward into the post-pandemic recovery period and beyond.

Post lockdown, health services face a pinch-point. Not only are services themselves grappling with their own recovery, but they also face unprecedented pent-up demand from service users. For Uday Bose, Managing Director of Boehringer Ingelheim UK & Ireland, health technology is part, but not the total solution to this quandary.

A key learning from the pandemic is that people can find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. Some 11.7 million people in the UK are estimated to be without basic digital skills and poor access to digital services is often associated with poorer health outcomes. COVID-19 has forced a shift in accessing healthcare services digitally, so we must look to solutions that ensure patients are well equipped to access the care they need and release resources to prioritise more complex patients.

Bose says: “Digital won’t be for all, and it is important that health tech remains an option not an imposition.” But, he says, there is no doubt that it has found a place. “Similar to online shopping; once people have tried it, and have become comfortable with the way it works, in most cases they rarely want to go back to the old way of doing things, however we need to take people on the journey and ensure no one is left behind.”

Putting patients at the heart of digital transformation

Vital to tackling the digital divide is to co-design with communities, making sure that we reach all patients, especially those most vulnerable. Bose has suggestions on ways we can drive patient centric digital transformation. He says; “De-siloing care delivery is critical and if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can achieve great things for patients when we work together.”

He goes on to say: “Patients value the role of digital technology and the potential to enhance access to care, but they also have concerns around the use of their data. The NHS recognise this and the importance of connecting data with patients and maintaining transparency with them about how and why their data will be used. It’s a central issue in creating a more accountable and sustainable healthcare system and this is an area we can and should support them on.”

Building on this, Bose says we can learn a lot from what we already do well in some sectors of healthcare. The life sciences industry has always involved patients in research all the way through the innovation process. This is a translatable skill and points to the need for us to have a wider perspective and take cross sector learnings to support the integration of different approaches for better outcomes.

Overcoming barriers to uptake

Supporting digital innovation is a government priority and policy makers can improve receptiveness and inclusivity by involving clinician and patient input in decision-making.

However, central to change is to address the barriers in uptake to digital heath technology within the NHS. Our new Innovators Guide provides a comprehensive assessment of the English health system, pooling key stakeholder insights and signposting to further information for entrepreneurs to overcome barriers to the adoption of new technologies.

It also makes suggestions that help to address the issue of digital equality and literacy, through building digital skills into core medical education programmes. Having a national patient digital education strategy, supporting specialist medical teams to become early adopters of new technologies in the NHS and targeted education programmes to those most in need, will create a more receptive mind-set for patients and clinicians alike.

Bose says: “It’s great to see the huge impetus behind digital innovation in the NHS and as a family-owned, purpose-led, innovation-driven company we are committed to helping improve the health of people now and for future generations – our focus on patient centric digital transformation very much supports this ambition.”

An Innovator’s Guide to the NHS: Navigating the barriers to digital health, created by Boehringer Ingelheim, is helping to address these challenges by providing a holistic view of the digital landscape and providing advice for digital innovators to work more closely in partnership with the NHS.

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