Empower the person: digital health services for people

A few weeks ago we attended the ‘Empower the person: digital health services for people’ event at the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms in Holborn. The event was hosted NHS England, NHS Digital and the Digital Health Network and shared updates from NHS England and NHS Digital about where they are in their digital transformation journey. Here's our round up of the event.

First up was Juliet Bauer (Chief Digital Officer, NHS England) who took to the stage to outline the digital vision for patients and the public. 'Cautiously optimistic' is how Juliet described her vision for digital health in the UK. She is frustrated by the speed of technology but suggested there were many signs that the digital health revolution is starting to happen and reminded the audience that adoption takes time. The key to success is collaboration and Juliet urged the audience to start the conversation early and challenge opinions. Over the next 10 years digital services are likely to become the first point of contact for the NHS. Services must be universally personally so that everyone can benefit from the technology and we must design services that people want to use and need to use. As she explains on her blog:

“With expensive to treat conditions on the rise and people living longer we are now harnessing the power of information and technology to help the NHS meet the increasing demand described in the Five Year Forward View. Doing so is helping us provide care and services that are convenient for patients, efficient for the NHS and which get people the right care for them as quickly as possible. Our new digital services and support are empowering people to take control of their health and care through secure online access to clinicians, personalised and relevant health information, digital tools and advice that helps them to better manage their conditions.”

Juliet highlighted the many stages to achieving digital transformation and that we are looking to a consumer-led service which means rethinking the current model so we are living in the 21st century. She then outlined NHS England’s strategic approach to digital. They will provide platforms, tools, standards, guidance and common components nationally and make it easy for commissioners to provide high-quality digital services to meet local needs. They must stimulate the market to develop a wide range of apps and services to meet peoples' needs and make it easy for people to find tools and services that work for them. Juliet gave the example of how progress had been made nationally through the NHS 111 online pilot.             

Juliet then mentioned the importance of evolution, understanding that they are not going to always succeed first time around and that the journey will inevitably evolve over time. They are are continually learning and are willing to work collaboratively to make it happen. Juliet shared their new roadmap which sets out the national objectives and timelines.

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Juliet then discussed the broader context of how their work fits in including their strategy in line with the Five Year Forward View. She discussed the NHS App Library which provides trusted tools that help patients manage their health and benefits from having services endorsed by the NHS which allows users to build a level of trust when adopting new technology. Juliet's advice for SME’s and entrepreneurs working within the digital health industry was to align their plans and avoid duplication by following what was happening on a national level. She also advised them to share their progress and successes with NHS England so they can learn from their services and adopt what works.

Next up was Alan Morgans (Delivery Director, NHS Digital), who discussed the importance of empowering the person. Alan started by describing some of the ‘big problems’ that they face. Around 70% of the NHS budget is spent on around 23% of the population suffering from Long Term Conditions (LTCs) with around 40% of the budget spent on over 65’s. Mental health takes up £100bn per year and poor medication compliance which results in prescription medicines not being taken properly costs £500m per year, both of which are a huge burden on the economy.

Alan went on to discuss why investment should be put into digital transformation. We know there is a huge demand for digital with 78% of NHS.UK visits coming from mobile devices and users expecting to transact digitally. There is a need to think strategically about what works in the current market. It’s important to empower local and regional commissioners and advocate business change. Alan suggested there is a need to improve digital user experience to encourage and enable a shift that delivers benefits and that digital products and services have to do more things for more people without service disruption.

Alan then highlighted key services such as NHS.UK. They are transforming the NHS Choices website into a multi-channel, digital platform, improving and connecting disparate content, campaigns and services into coherent, contextualised user journeys, which create better user experiences. Alan went on to explain their strategy is to work with the ecosystem of national, local and market services rather doing everything centrally. He described the need for a consistent and clear digital user journey that supports beneficial channel shift to digital. He talked about the importance of supporting and advocating the healthcare system adoption and business change outcomes as well as the need to maximise participation, prioritising users and aligning journey to strategic outcomes.

We then heard from patient advocate Trevor Fossey who gave us a patients' perspective and discussed the benefits of accessing online healthcare services. Trevor was a global digital manager for DHL and was introduced to online services after suffering a stroke in 2008. Following a second stroke in 2014 Trevor retired and decided to volunteer with a number of activities in the health system. Due to the nature of Trevor's job, he understood the importance of transparency around his digital health record and his when consulting with his GP, he was advised to join a Patient Participation Group (PPG) which allowed him access to his medical records. Once Trevor had access to his records he researched his physical and mental health and realised he could do something about it. In 2016 Trevor had a blood test and thanks to his online access within three hours he had his results available to him which showed that his blood sugar levels had returned to a normal range. In a follow up appointment with his GP, he was advised to stop taking six of his diabetic medications instantly.

Trevor told us that having control over his personal health records made him feel more in control and empowered to do something about his own health. He compared it to online banking:

We don’t let banks manage our money, people can view their bank accounts online, why can’t the same be said for our health?".

The session concluded with a series of informal discussions sharing insights from local digital programmes and innovations. The transformation to a more digitally focused NHS is one which will take time. The national objectives set out in the ambitious new roadmap for digital health and care services can only be achieved if we work transparently and collaboratively. There are signs that the digital revolution is under way, let's keep it going!