21st November 2012
Advances in Healthcare through Digital Consultations and Three Million Lives: What needs to be done?
In 2012 'Digital Healthcare' moved from the margins to centre stage with the UK Department of Health setting up a Digital Healthcare Unit and the new NHS Information Strategy using the phrase several times. More important, the 2011 Department of Health Innovation Health and Wealth report stated that two of the six high impact changes for the NHS in the next 5 years will be digital: ensuring that the lives of 3 million people will be changed by telehealth or telecare, and Digital by Default. This takes the challenge set out 3 years ago by Martha Lane Fox for UK public services to exploit digital channels to the heart of the clinical consultation. The DH has commissioned research showing that the NHS will save £200M for every 1% shift away from face to face consultations. Even if a modest 10% shift is achieved over the next 5 years, this means that the NHS stands to save £15 - 20 Billion. No wonder that HM Treasury, NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups and industry suppliers are watching Digital Healthcare with renewed interest.
These shifts towards digital channels are not confined to the UK, with strong pressures towards digital healthcare in Australia, the USA and many European countries, and a billion dollars a year being spent by NGOs on eHealth systems in least developed countries. However, beyond the economic drivers and political rhetoric, four serious questions needed to be discussed:
- How will these new digital services connect with existing information systems?
- Will they be as safe, reliable and effective as some studies suggest and will they really lead to the in-year cost savings demanded by hospital Chief Executives?
- How will we train new, and more urgently, existing staff to get the best out of these new approaches?
- What steps must health systems, industry, academia and other partners take to ensure that digital healthcare systems are safe and fit for purpose and that we learn the lessons from those that are not?
In this our Third Annual Conference, we debated and progressed our understanding of all these issues, supported by some outstanding keynote speakers, contributions from industry, health systems and leading researchers - and yourselves.