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TechnologyMar 16, 2021

NHS staff more optimistic than the public over potential offered by 'technology-enabled' approaches

A UK-wide survey of more than 1,400 NHS clinicians – with allied health professionals featuring prominently among them – has uncovered a groundswell of support for the greater use of digital technology.

The results, published today (16 March) in a Health Foundation report titled Securing a positive health care technology legacy from Covid-19, are based on an online survey conducted over a one-week period straddling late October and early November 2020.

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One older person in two felt the quality of the healthcare they received had worsened

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The report examines the NHS’s increasing reliance on technological solutions – such as video consultations, online appointment bookings and remote monitoring at home – to reach patients as the Covid-19 pandemic made traditional approaches increasingly untenable.

Six staff respondents in ten (61 per cent) said the NHS should seek to exploit more technology-enabled approaches in the future, while about half (49 per cent) of the 4,300-plus respondents in separate survey of members of the public agreed.

However, the report points out, a significant minority in both the public (36 per cent) and NHS staff (31 per cent) surveys were not convinced about the long-term viability of these approaches.

While most respondents in the public survey reported having had positive experiences, half of those aged 55 and older (50 per cent) – and nearly as many of those who had a carer (46 per cent) – said technology-enabled approaches meant the quality of care they received was worse. Both these groups may have greater need for health care, the report notes.

Emerging from the 'shadow of the pandemic'

Tim Horton, the Health Foundation’s assistant director of improvement, said: 'Given the immense pressure the NHS has been under, it is impressive that so many patients and staff reported positive experiences as new technologies were rolled out.

'However, the fast pace at which they were introduced means that important steps – such as evaluation and co-design with patients – will necessarily have been shortcut. As we emerge from the shadow of the pandemic, the NHS must evaluate and improve these approaches before locking them in for the future.'

Asked what factors would be crucial if recent progress was to be maintained, the NHS clinicians highlighted the need for adequate IT and equipment, while ensuring that technologies were safe and worked for all types of patients.

The NHS has not yet 'sealed the deal' with the public on the use of technology in the future and further work is needed to address concerns and build trust in new technologies [Tim Horton, Health Foundation]

'Deal has yet to be sealed'

Mr Horton added: 'The NHS has not yet “sealed the deal” with the public on the use of technology in the future and further work is needed to address concerns and build trust in new technologies.

‘While the speed of innovation has been hugely impressive, rushing to make these changes permanent without understanding more about their impact would risk holding back promising technologies from fulfilling their potential to improve care for every patient.

'Action is needed by the NHS and government, who have a critical opportunity to secure a positive health care technology legacy from Covid-19.'

'Blended' approach required

Responding to report, the NHS Confederation's director of policy, Layla McCay, said the survey results showed how hard staff had worked to ensure patients could access care – whether face to face or digitally.'

Dr McCay added: ‘Innovations in digital care achieved during the pandemic have expedited opportunities to now embed a blended approach of both face-to-face and digital options where relevant in accessing care.

'This mix should be designed to best support patients to access care in ways that are right for them, and reflect the need for access to inclusive and appropriate services for everyone who needs them.’

To see the full version of Securing a positive health care technology legacy from Covid-19, visit: https://www.health.org.uk/publications/long-reads/securing-a-positive-health-care-technology-legacy-from-covid-19

The government’s White Paper, Integration and Innovation, working together to improve health and social care for all, was published last month. It notes: 'The response to Covid-19 … has shown us new ways to deliver care using innovative and creative solutions, exploiting the potential of digital and data, instead of needless bureaucracy.

‘We must not go back to the old ways of working. The gains made through these new approaches must be locked in,' it added. See: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/working-together-to-improve-health-and-social-care-for-all/integration-and-innovation-working-together-to-improve-health-and-social-care-for-all-html-version


Author: Ian A McMillan
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