PM told that digital tools can prevent poor health

Written by Gill Hitchcock on 7 September 2021 in News
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Policy leaders want to test health tech at scale to tackle health inequalities

The government’s science and technology policy advisers have called on the prime minister to tackle health inequalities by making digital routes to access health advice available to all.

In a report to Boris Johnson, the Government Office for Science and the Council for Science and Technology emphasise the strong association between groups that are digitally excluded and those that are at greater risk of poor health.

The report says that technology solutions, such as remote access to specialist advice and cheaper mobile imaging equipment, could allow more routine monitoring of health indicators. This would mean that interventions could be used to prevent conditions developing or manage chronic conditions.

In addition, these solutions have the potential to make health services easily available to elderly and vulnerable people who are often in the greatest need, but may struggle to access traditional healthcare centres.

But without addressing the ‘digital divide’, such tools have the potential to exacerbate health inequalities, they say. Disadvantaged groups must get government support to improve their digital literacy.

Digital tools must be produced in cooperation with relevant communities to ensure that all technologies meet the social, cultural and linguistic needs of users.

The report proposes setting up at least two technology demonstrators to test the introduction of a range of innovative health technologies at scale, and across the full breadth of services.

They would run for five to 10 years to learn about what works, test how the parts are assembled, and explore the challenges and opportunities relevant to adoption across the NHS.

The two agencies call on the prime minister to establish a National Centre for Health System Improvement to build capacity and skills for system transformation.

The centre must be multi-disciplinary and engage people with a mixture of backgrounds and origins from inside and outside the medical profession. They should be given the skills and opportunities to lead transformation. Contributors would include clinicians, data scientists, engineers, systems design specialists, clinical trialists, regulators, behavioural and social scientists, ethicists and patients.

However, the report says that technology alone cannot overcome the inequalities that lead to disparities in health outcomes and increased demand for NHS resources. It warns that poor implementation of technology risks increasing inequality.

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