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Digital Health Q3 2021

Digital healthcare – reality and benefits

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Rachel Power

Chief Executive, the Patients Association

During the pandemic, there was talk English general practice would become a digital-first service. But, so far, few patients have experienced digital healthcare; the opinions of those who have are mixed on its value.

The promise of digital technology in healthcare has been talked about for years but from a patient perspective there’s been little to show. We have the example of online systems for renewing prescriptions or making GP appointments. These systems should offer patients benefits but the feedback we’ve heard is mixed. 

As for online video consultations, live chat and online symptom checkers, there is a broad range of experiences, but the trend in what patients tell us is towards negative feedback. It’s clear more work needs to be done to ensure the digital services that do exist work as advertised. 

It’s clear more work needs to be done to ensure the digital services that do exist work as advertised. 

Systems that work for patients 

A key concern around digital services, is that they may be used in a way that benefits health systems, without considering what patients need. Clunky NHS admin is a weakness in the system and source of frustration to patients, the danger is this is simply reproduced in digital form.

We’re also concerned about the risk of excluding people with very basic digital skills, people who don’t have smartphones, or people who can’t afford computer equipment and/or internet access. All these practical concerns need to be considered too. 

Embed patient partnership

If both patients and the health system are to benefit from digital technology, then partnering with patients in the design, development and deployment of such technologies is the way to ensure benefit flows to all. Evidence shows that involving patients in their individual health and more broadly in the design of systems improves both patient safety and outcomes. 

For the digital health tech companies, they are still at the start of their patient partnership journey. Our travel advice is, get your patient partners onboard early and listen to what they say.

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