Editorial

‘Clear and credible plan needed for digital health,’ warns Kings Fund

Think tank says mistakes have been made, but real potential still exists to get a more efficient and digital national health service via technology

Posted 22 September 2016 by

Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, Department of Health (on Flickr)Government and NHS leaders should set out a “definitive plan” for expanding the use of digital technology in the health service, according to a new study from health think tank The King’s Fund.
In recent years, the digital agenda in health care has been the subject of an array of promises and plans, ranging from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s challenge to the NHS to go paperless to the commitment set out in the NHS’s Five Year Forward View to “harness the information revolution”.
But, asks the research, have expectations been set too high – and is there sufficient clarity about the funding available to achieve this vision.
The Kings Fund’s report looks at the key commitments made and what is known about progress to date, grouped under three broad themes:
  • interoperable electronic health records
  • patient-focused digital technology
  • secondary use of data, transparency and consent.

It also claims to identify “barriers to further progress”, as well as “opportunities for delivering on the digital agenda”.

The 40-page document highlights the risk of losing credibility and commitment among frontline NHS staff if the digital health agenda continues to be subject to shifting priorities, new initiatives, and slipping timescales, and calls for urgent clarification of when funding already announced will be made available, warning that holding back investment until later in the parliament will inevitably slow down progress.

The briefing assesses progress made against key commitments such as implementing electronic patient records, increasing the number of accredited health apps for patients and rolling out online appointment booking and repeat prescription services.

The study concludes that digital technology has the potential to deliver significant benefits to patients and health professionals, but that “progress in implementing it” remains patchy.

“Digital technology has the potential to transform the way patients engage with services and support them in managing their health and wellbeing,” commented Matthew Honeyman, policy researcher at The King’s Fund.

“In the incredibly challenging context in which the NHS finds itself, a clear plan is needed for taking the digital health agenda forward.

“Ministers and NHS leaders must articulate a clear and compelling vision which conveys the benefits of digitisation to the clinical staff who will be central to implementing it and provide certainty about the funds available to support it.”

The King’s Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and care in England that helps to shape policy and practice through research and analysis, develop individuals, teams and organisations, promote understanding of the health and social care system, and bring people together to learn, share knowledge and debate.