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NHS risks falling behind on technology

A new NHS Confederation report says the over-reliance on treatment delivered through face-to-face contact means the NHS risks being stuck in the technological dark ages as new ways of communication become the norm.

Remote control, the patient-practitioner relationship in a digital age says that, while for many of the NHS’ main users – especially the very old – face-to-face will continue to be the most sensible way to provide care, for an ever-growing number it is not. More and more people expect to be able to manage parts of their healthcare remotely using modern communication technologies, as they do with other areas of their life.

The NHS has to cater for this section of society to offer high-quality care and ensure that resources can be used more appropriately where face-to-face contact is the best option.

New technologies

Progress has been made but health services have still struggled with new technologies as a combination of top down initiatives and a lack of engagement from clinicians and patients has meant new technologies such as telemedicine and telecare have failed to truly take off. In the future, government needs to support uptake of health technology in a sustained and systematic way without resorting to an overly prescriptive, centralised plan.

Despite the huge funding pressures, NHS organisations should continue to make the case for new technologies as they will form the backbone for how we access many public services in the future. The key will be to address the cultural barriers that stop the uptake of new technologies.

NHS Confederation acting chief executive Nigel Edwards said: “Call it the post-bureaucratic or the post-industrial age, the NHS, like any other sector of the economy, has to keep up with developments in technologies. In doing so, there is an opportunity to both improve care for patients and make sure resources are better focused when face-to-face care is the only way forward.

“The NHS struggled under the framework of 20th century ‘industrialised’ production; healthcare just didn’t fit into this model. The prospects under a 21st century ‘digital’ economy are much more promising with the potential to both offer highly specialist care remotely into people’s homes and monitor conditions much more easily as they develop.

“There are lots of pilots and studies showing how new communications technologies can improve care but they are rarely fully taken up so we know important barriers still remain in taking up these new technologies. The most important of these is the cultural barrier that people working in the NHS and patients have to the use of technology in healthcare.

“We need to address these barriers as people increasingly expect to access services online. It simply cannot be sustainable in the health service of the future for skilled NHS staff to continue to send on referral letters using second class post.”

Read the report

Download Remote control. The patient-practitioner relationship in a digital age from our publications library

Seminar videos

You may also be interested to see videos from our expert seminar on the multi-channel NHS, held in June 2010. Joanne Shaw, chair of NHS Direct and Mohammad Al-Ubaydli, chief executive of Patients know best present their views on what digital healthcare means for patients now and in the future. Visit the Patients know best website to watch the videos.

A Connected World: Download this latest white paper here