It’s time for the NHS to prioritise mobile, digital patient engagement


So, the UK NHS spending review has produced a series of attention-grabbing headlines.

The HSJ alone – a journal that positions itself as `for healthcare leaders`- led with `Spending review reveals ‘21 per cent cut’ to non-NHS England health budgets` before trumpeting an `Exclusive` that `HEE budget freeze will have ‘consequences’ for NHS` and `Treasury proposes part selloff of PFI` with `Public health to be cut by 4 per cent a year` and that `Chancellor pledges £1bn for NHS tech over five years`

As a medical technology developer, of course, it’s the latter headline that interest me particularly. Apparently, the funding pledged falls considerably short of a Department of Health spending review bid submitted in September. The HSJ revealed earlier this month that the DH asked for `£3.3bn to £5.6bn` to fund NHS technology projects.

Now that’s a big shortfall you might think.  But to coin a well-worn phrase `it’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it` that matters. This concerns me as, arguments over `austerity` budgets aside, we are living in rapidly changing times serving a population that is evolving a different expectation of how it should be served.

The pervasion of the internet and the near ubiquity of mobile communication has driven a revolution in the way that people in all walks of life interact with each other and deal with virtually all organisations with which they interact.

They want to engage, they want to contribute, they want to share, they want to be seen as partners in making things happen.  They want to be in control of their lives and those of their loved ones.  And the mobile device has become the universal tool by which they do this.

What’s this got to do with NHS spending budgets?  Everything.  It’s about the choice over what that technology budget is spent on and whether the NHS wants to continue to be the healthcare beacon of light that we all want it to be. We should never forget, too, that the `S` in NHS stands for Service

But the history of the NHS is replete with huge, complex and eye-wateringly expensive grand technology schemes that have consumed billions before failing spectacularly.  I’d argue that one of the reasons for this is that they have been top down, institutional approaches. It strikes me too that the last group they have considered were actually the patients themselves.

Increasingly, patients are demanding a voice and want to be served by the NHS in the way that they are served by all other organisations, including much of the public sector. And that means using their mobile devices – the smartphones, tablets and even PCs that are with them 24/7.

So whatever the eventual sum that is made available for NHS technology projects, those that make the decision about how those funds are allocated should think long and hard about meeting the true needs of those that fund them.

That means designing systems from the outside in not the inside out, responding to the needs of those that the NHS serves.  Patients are consumers of health services for which they pay through their taxes on a daily basis and should be treated as such. The have already voted in how they want to be served by all other organisations by investing in the devices they use every day.

That means it’s time for the NHS to take advantage of that investment and prioritise mobile, digital patient engagement.

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