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Are patients ready for digital doctors?

How can technology truly benefit health delivery?

Cloud

It’s a commonly-held view that technology and big data will solve at least some of the critical issues faced by health systems - namely increases in demand and complexity of care requirements and treatment options. But has the promise of these solutions been fully realised, or are the barriers to full uptake too high? How can technology truly benefit health delivery?

The evolution of NHS 111 from being a nurse-led service to one using algorithms and non-medical professional call handlers is a salutary example. With the aim of reducing the burden on over-pressed A&E and GP services by providing advice, it seems that the service has increased ambulance call-outs and A&E attendance, simply because directing people to see a healthcare professional is the safest course of action. Some elements of digitisation are here to stay, but wider adoption will depend on the public’s belief in ‘machines’ being able to understand their particular requirements correctly which, right now, is highly unlikely.

There are two clear needs here. The first is to understand where technology can support, rather than replace, healthcare professionals. The most obvious example here is the ability to process and provide access to big data repositories - such as published clinical or electronic patient records from across all of their treatment areas - that can empower HCPs to make better, more informed choices, which in turn helps provide a more joined-up and consistent patient/treatment experience.

The second need is to win the hearts and minds of people affected by ill health. Patients (for want of a better word) want to feel that they, and their symptoms, are being considered holistically not just as part of a flow chart or checklist. Big data and the benefits they deliver is intrinsically tied to this. If you can use information and data systems to design and deliver more tailored healthcare programmes, you will begin to overcome the distrust and uncertainty many patients hold towards the use of technology in healthcare delivery. If patients continue to distrust the care they’re given (however it’s delivered) they’ll either seek it in other parts of the health system (which shifts the burden elsewhere) or simply be reluctant to engage and potentially suffer worsening health, which is consequently more expensive to treat.

As is increasingly becoming the norm, it is important to help people understand the role technology is playing in the delivery of care, supporting them and their healthcare professionals. We must also recognise the needs of those who aren’t (and may have no desire to be) digitally literate.

When considering technology’s ongoing and expanding role in healthcare delivery, perhaps it should be considered less of a digital disruption, a phrase with negative overtones. Augmented intelligence may more accurately reflect the value technology can bring to health systems as a support and enabler.

Gareth Davies is EMEA digital lead at WE Communications

25th July 2017

25th July 2017

From: Healthcare

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