Chief Executive, the Patients Association and Chair, Patient Coalition for AI, Data and Digital Tech in Health
Collaboration with patients is the only way innovation in healthcare technologies can make a substantial impact to the patient pathway and healthcare systems.
Digital health technology has been seen to provide better access to information and care, increase patients’ ability to access care and provide more opportunities for greater control of their health and shared care. However, if we are to capitalise on the potential value of innovations for all, we must first establish patients as genuine partners from the development of digital health technology through to its implementation. This includes:
- Understanding the true impact of digital exclusion. The most recent report by the Patient Coalition for AI, Data and Digital Tech in Health demonstrates the true impact of digital health inequalities and provides recommendations for how both the NHS and the Government can work with patients to ensure innovation works for them.1 If patients can’t access technology, health inequalities will worsen.
- Providing patients a choice on how they access healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic saw the digitalisation of NHS services at a much faster pace than that anticipated by the NHS Long Term Plan. This swift adoption of technology proved useful in enabling some people to continue to access health services. However, recent studies have found that patients wish to be given a choice on how they receive care.2,3
- Using language patients can understand. As many as four in 10 adults in the UK struggle to understand and use typical medical information designed for the public, creating problems for websites like the NHS Direct, which is there to guide people.4 Low health literacy is linked to a range of problems, including poor general health, inappropriate use of health services and reduced life expectancy. Ensuring information accessed via digital technology can be easily understood is vital.
If patients can’t access technology, health inequalities will worsen.
In our rush to embrace digital technology, we need to ensure that innovation is something done ‘with’ patients rather than ‘to’ patients.
 Report due to be published Spring 2022
 Healthwatch, (2021) Locked out: Digitally excluded people’s experiences of remote GP appointments. Available at: https://www.healthwatch.co.uk/sites/healthwatch.co.uk/files/Digital%20Exclusion%20v4.pdf
 Patient Coalition for AI, Data and Digital Tech in Health, (2021) Digital health during the Covid-19 pandemic: Learning lessons to maintain momentum. Available at: https://www.patients-association.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=8cf1640f-350f-43ba-b6e8-ecc70e0568d8
 NHS England, Creating better content for users with low health literacy. February 2019. Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/blog/transformation-blog/2019/creating-better-content-for-users-with-low-health-literacy