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NHS use of technology is primitive

Think tank calls on NHS to use technology more

OnMedica staff

Friday, 24 October 2008

The NHS should make far more use of today’s technology such as e-mails and the internet, according to two reports published today by health policy think tank the King’s Fund.

To date, the NHS has failed to make it more convenient for the public to receive care by not making use of everyday technology and innovation.

The reports argue the NHS has been slow to adopt technologies that are already in widespread use elsewhere, such as in the financial services and travel industries and it needs to match their development.

Despite the current £12bn being spent on an IT revamp of the NHS that will introduce electronic care records and online booking of hospital appointments, the reports say more needs to be done.

Even well-established technologies, such as email and the internet, are not being used routinely in the NHS to help patients, for example, with booking GP appointments, receiving routine test results, viewing medical records or having online consultations.

One of the reports, Technology in the NHS, outlines a vision of health care over the next decade in which technology transforms the way patients receive care and interact with the NHS.

This vision includes common technologies, such as using email to communicate with doctors, to more advanced technologies such as video-conferencing for medical consultations and ‘virtual’ visiting by friends and family.

Report co-author Alasdair Liddell, senior associate at the King's Fund, said: “Consumers are accustomed to using technology in their daily lives – 17 million people bank online and 55% of internet users book their holidays online.

“Yet new technologies, and even basic ones, are not embedded in the health service.”

The main barriers restricting the take-up of new technologies include: 

  • Lack of resources to invest in new technology
  • Lack of incentives to encourage clinicians to adopt new technologies and change the way patients receive care – for example, there is no incentive to establish direct email access between patients and their GPs
  • Lack of leadership from the Department of Health.

The report recommends better communication with patients using technology; stronger leadership from the DH; a strengthening of the partnership between the NHS and technology companies; and for NICE to carry out technology assessments on innovation.

The second report, Engaging Patients in Their Health, also concludes that the use of technology is significantly underdeveloped and poorly deployed in the NHS.

King’s Fund’s director of policy Anna Dixon said: “There are information technologies in most homes and pockets that could transform health care and the way it is delivered.

“These are not futuristic, these are technologies we use day-to-day. But when it comes to our health care, patients aren’t even able to use basic technologies, whether it’s using email to book GP appointments or using the internet to view our medical records online. This has to change.”

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