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Is technophobia holding back the NHS?

26 April 2017

Is technophobia holding back the NHS?

A fascinating recent report on Channel 4 News looked into the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on healthcare. It highlighted the work of British company (now owned by Google), DeepMind. For example, it is exploring, in collaboration with Moorfields Eye Hospital, how technology can be used to analyse highly complex digital scans of eyes – leading to faster diagnosis and treatment and giving doctors a better understanding of eye disease.

Read more about DeepMind here:

Analysing unstructured data

In a blog on a recent The King's Fund e-newsletter, David Buck, Senior Fellow, Public Health and Inequalities, wrote: "Digital health is sexy". He went on to talk about a project in which they used software to analyse one million social media posts about mental health issues. The tested to software's ability to distinguish and categorise information from the data. Buck concluded in his blog: "This study has demonstrated that we can identify, understand and construct wider meaning from millions of complex and unstructured online conversations about important issues that affect our health."

Read the whole blog here:

Health care transformation

Last year, the Nuffield Trust published a report which set out 'the possibilities to transform health care offered by digital technologies'. The vision of how health care is likely to change in the next 10 years included improved patient outcomes, clinical professionals spending time treating patients rather than 'wasting time managing processes' and less time spent by staff on administrative tasks and routine communication.

Read the report here:

Exciting, but…

For myself as a healthcare change management consultant, the digital vision is stimulating and I'm excited by the possibilities. I do have one concern though – are patients, clinicians and staff ready for the revolution? The latest GP Patient Survey results found that use of online services such as booking an appointment and ordering repeat prescriptions: 'remains low in comparison to awareness'. For example, 31.3% of respondents are aware they can book appointments online while on 7.5% say they have done this recently. This despite one in four patients saying it is not easy to get through to their GP surgery on the phone.

In The digital patient: transforming primary care?, a report by the Nuffield Trust, in discussing remote consultations (e.g. via Skype) it stated: 'Professionals are also often resistant, as many believe that face-to-face consultations are crucial for good-quality care and job satisfaction' citing an article by Hanna and others in Family Practice 29(3), 361–6.

Read the Nuffield Trust report here:

Patient-driven change

Jonathon Carr-Brown, the director of Lost for Words which represents innovative digital companies and formerly managing director of NHS Choices, wrote an article for The Guardian online in January 2015. It stated: The health service should follow the banking, airline, holiday and insurance industries by adopting technology – and the public can lead that change.' Carr-Brown said more than 20 million users look up health information on NHS Choices every month and proclaimed: 'Reach out to these people and the odds are good they will respond. Especially if clinical leaders, who already support advance decisions and statements, encourage the public to sign up.'

Read his article here:

Let the revolution begin

Following on from Carr-Brown's suggestion, I believe we should begin by using digital technology to drive digital technology in healthcare. Let some clever machine analyse what aspects of healthcare those millions of users of NHS Choices are looking up each month. Let it also analyse the reviews and ratings of services on NHS Choices. Add in analyses of Friends and Family Test responses, GP Patient Survey results and results from other such healthcare surveys. Remember, it was Lenin who said: "You cannot make a revolution in white gloves."

About the author

Amanda Atkin is a change management consultant focusing on the healthcare sector in which she has considerable expertise and experience. Amanda's skills range across contractual management, performance management, operational delivery and leadership development to strategic planning as well as governance and regulatory compliance.

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