More can be done to improve uptake of digital health technologies during the pandemic

More can be done to improve uptake of digital health technologies during the pandemic amidst mixed patient experience and opinions, reports new coalition supported by patient groups and Royal Colleges.

Examination of patient experience of digital health technology during the pandemic identifies principles for how to ensure digital health works for patients and the NHS.

Report acknowledges critical issues such as limited uptake and public concern about efficacy of digital health technology.

To be successful, digital health technology must be accessible to all while maintaining the human aspect of healthcare, a new report developed with support from organisations including the Patients Association and Diabetes UK has found.

‘Digital Health during the Covid-19 Pandemic: Learning Lessons to Maintain Momentum’ draws on research and case studies of good practice in digital health during the pandemic to offer policy recommendations to help ensure the UK capitalises on the potential of digital health to the benefit of patients, the NHS and the UK, after the crisis subsides.

The report, launched by the Patient Coalition for AI, Data and Digital Tech in Health, with support from patient organisations and the Royal Colleges of Nursing and Radiologists, highlights that uptake of digital health technologies has been limited, while patient experience of technologies including video conferencing and mobile apps has been mixed. While patients strongly believe in the value of digital health, there are still significant concerns about using it, particularly around data collection and sharing.

It is clear patients want to retain the choice to use digital health technology, but that this should not undermine or remove the patient-clinician relationship. The report also emphasises that a key foundational principle must be for digital health technology to be used to the benefit of all patients – something that can be challenging as about 20% of the population lack basic digital skills or do not use digital technology at all.

Bringing together research and the responses to a survey of Patients Association members, the report highlights the low level of digitisation that existed in the UK prior to the pandemic, alongside a limited public understanding of but a clear interest in the role of digital health.

The Coalition draws on key learnings from 11 case studies of digital health technologies that have provided vital support to patients and healthcare professionals during the pandemic to conclude that effective digital approaches to healthcare need to:

  1. Respond directly to patient needs
  2. Ensure technology is easy to use
  3. Embrace convenience and flexibility
  4. Maintain the human aspect of healthcare
  5. Support clinicians

The report concludes that the UK must build on progress made to digitise the NHS during the pandemic rather than revert to pre-Covid service models, and draw on good practice examples that have helped facilitate service improvements, such as virtual self-referral and clinician communication support.

The Government should…

  1. Ensure digital policy reflects patient priorities
  2. Involve patients in the policymaking process
  3. Educate people about the value of digital health technology
  4. Make digital health technology accessible to all
  5. Ensure that regulations for the collection, sharing and use of patient data are clear and consistently applied

The NHS should…

  1. Examine the public experience of digital health technology during the pandemic
  2. Ensure patients have a choice
  3. Give patients more time and control over their health and care
  4. Reassure patients that their data is safe
  5. Continue to strengthen and publicise digital assurance

This report has been developed by the Patient Coalition for AI, Data and Digital Tech in Health, which aims to unite representatives from patient advocacy groups, Royal Colleges, medical charities, industry and other stakeholders committed to ensuring that patient interests lie at the heart of digital health policy and discussions.

The Patients Association serves as Chair of the Coalition and Lexington Communications serves as Secretariat. This report has been developed with support from:

  • Association of Medical Research Charities
  • Asthma UK
  • British Lung Foundation
  • British Heart Foundation
  • Diabetes UK
  • Fight for Sight
  • Parkinson’s UK
  • Patient Safety Learning
  • The Patients Association
  • Royal College of Nursing
  • Royal College of Radiologists
  • Royal Society of Medicine – Digital Health Council
  • Stroke Association

This report reflects the view of the Patient Coalition on AI, Data and Digital Tech in Health and may not reflect the individual views of every one of the organisations that contributed to its creation

Rachel Power, Chief Executive of The Patients Association, Chair of the Patient Coalition for AI, Data and Digital Tech in Health, and contributor to the report, said:

“Over the past year, the health service has rapidly adapted to a difficult environment, including by embracing digital health technologies. While this has worked well for some, it has proven challenging for others and there are plenty of lessons to be learned as health services continue to evolve. We have an opportunity to build on this incredible momentum and leverage the value of digital health technologies to the benefit of patients and the NHS. Hopefully this report provides useful insights and recommendations to help support the ongoing process of digitisation and ensure that patient priorities and experience always lie at the heart of digital policy.”



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