Digital health

Digital health can enable the way care is provided to be more individualised, more immediate and more convenient.  Because people have greater access to information and are enabled to manage their own health and care, it supports a cultural shift in the balance of power away from health professionals and services and towards patients. 

What is digital health?

'This is "citizen health": patients choosing the technology that they like to seize control of their own health and wellbeing' says Shaun O’Hanlon writing in the HSJ.  Digital health can be thought of as a continuum ranging from technologies that support the care people receive through the NHS – such as booking appointments on-line and consultations via Skype – to technologies people use to support their health and wellbeing completely independently of the NHS – such as apps and online communities. 

Do people actually want it?

People using services today have very different expectations of both services and health professionals from in the past.  They expect better access to services and more choice and control over their treatment and care. 'We can bank on our mobiles, we can shop and manage virtually every aspect of our lives through technology.  I want to manage my healthcare in the same way,' says intestinal transplant patient Michael Seres.

What about older people, or people who aren’t confident or able to access or use the technology?

Digital health is not a one-size-fits-all solution.  Whether it is offering someone a choice of a follow-up appointment face-to-face or by Skype, or monitoring their own blood pressure rather than visiting a clinic, the approach needs to be flexible so people are able to 'mix and match' the different technologies with more traditional approaches, to create a combination that works for each individual. 

How does digital health look in action?

A good example is 'Flo', a texting messaging application developed by the NHS.  After a patient signs up, they begin to receive regular information and prompting messages reminding them to do things like take their medication or text in their blood test readings.  Their health team then have access to the results and can speak to them via phone or Skype, saving them coming in for an appointment.

How can we implement it?

'I think the lesson learned is that you don’t just buy the boxes and drop them into the pathway without thinking about the repercussions and effect on everything else,' says one manager interviewed as part of a project to understand the barriers and enablers to frontline staff implementing remote monitoring. The project concluded that mainstreaming telehealth hinges on clinical 'buy in'. 

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