Helping Patients Help Themselves?

Martha Lane-Fox is the government’s ‘tsar of choice’ when it comes to digital initiatives. Now a Baroness sitting in the House of Lords she has the ear of the upper house in the UK legislature and some friends in very high places in the Cabinet Office and beyond. Lane-Fox was also a founder, mover and shaker at the Government Digital Service (GDS). The recent UK government spending review pledged additional support for GDS-inspired digital initiatives.

Baroness Lane-Fox’s latest project was to have a look at the NHS and think about how it could do things a bit better in terms of embracing digital technology to allow patients to get better health outcomes.

Her main recommendations have been made to the National Information Board and include the following:

  • making sure those with the most health and social care needs, who are often the least likely to be online, are included first in any new digital tools being used across the NHS
  • free WiFi in every NHS building
  • building the basic digital skills of the NHS workforce to ensure that everyone has the digital skills needed to support people’s health needs
  • at least 10% of registered patients in each GP practice should be using a digital service such as online appointment booking, repeat prescriptions and access to records by 2017

The extent to which these things might result in better health outcomes isn’t really known, of course. Providing ubiquitous WiFi in every NHS building, it could be argued, might provide useful distractions to patients but it may not result in better healthcare.

Moreover, many patients that avail of healthcare might be either too ill or educationally deprived to pull out an iPad to “take control of their care”.

Lane-Fox’s recommendations stopped short of recommending the types of digital healthcare initiatives being trail-blazed in other jurisdictions. In Singapore, for example, Project Silverline encourages people to donate old iPhones that are then forked with a suite of apps that can be used by people (especially the elderly) to keep in touch with loved ones.  Japan is also trialing robotics to assist elderly patients with walking and toileting.

Healthcare is in crisis in most developed markets. The demands from an aging population, growing problems of obesity and  escalating rates of chronic disease associated with obesity, are having a huge impact on healthcare spending. The extent to which pervasive WiFi represents the digital way forward for healthcare is questionable.

Digital technology is almost certainly going to help in many areas of healthcare provision. But too much of a focus on apps and here and now solutions may not be the answer.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Peel
Editor, Citizen20Series and MD, Quadriga Consulting.I am responsible for all site content and have overall responsibility for site editorial, as well as site membership.