Digital health can enable the way care is provided to be more individualised, more immediate and more convenient.  Because people have greater access to information and are enabled to manage their own health and care, it supports a cultural shift in the balance of power away from health professionals and services and towards patients.

What is digital health?

‘This is “citizen health”: patients choosing the technology that they like to seize control of their own health and wellbeing’ says Shaun O’Hanlon writing in the HSJ.  Digital health can be thought of as a continuum ranging from technologies that support the care people receive through the NHS – such as booking appointments on-line and consultations via Skype – to technologies people use to support their health and wellbeing completely independently of the NHS – such as apps and online communities.

Read Shaun’s article A new era of citizen health is shaping the future of care

Do people actually want it?

People using services today have very different expectations of both services and health professionals from in the past.  They expect better access to services and more choice and control over their treatment and care. ‘We can bank on our mobiles, we can shop and manage virtually every aspect of our lives through technology.  I want to manage my healthcare in the same way,’ says intestinal transplant patient Michael Seres.

Read Michael’s article Why can’t patients receive blood results via text or use Skype for appointments?

What about older people, or people who aren’t confident or able to access or use the technology?

Digital health is not a one-size-fits-all solution.  Whether it is offering someone a choice of a follow-up appointment face-to-face or by Skype, or monitoring their own blood pressure rather than visiting a clinic, the approach needs to be flexible so people are able to ‘mix and match’ the different technologies with more traditional approaches, to create a combination that works for each individual.

Read more about the challenges of ensuring access and avoiding the ‘digital divide’.

How does digital health look in action?

A good example is ‘Flo’, a texting messaging application developed by the NHS.  After a patient signs up, they begin to receive regular information and prompting messages reminding them to do things like take their medication or text in their blood test readings.  Their health team then have access to the results and can speak to them via phone or Skype, saving them coming in for an appointment.

Read more about Flo
View a 7-minute video where Diabetes Nurse Specialist Theresa O’Shea and patient Yvonne, explain how they use a combination of ‘Flo’ and consultations via Skype.

How can we implement it?

‘I think the lesson learned is that you don’t just buy the boxes and drop them into the pathway without thinking about the repercussions and effect on everything else,’ says one manager interviewed as part of a project to understand the barriers and enablers to frontline staff implementing remote monitoring.  The project concluded that mainstreaming telehealth hinges on clinical ‘buy in’.

Read the learning from four community health services about engaging staff in implementing digital health.

Recommened resources
The components of digital health

Our webpage sets out the different components of digital health, from self-monitoring and tele-consultations to social networks and online communities with links through to a range of examples and resources on each.

We have the technology: the changing face of healthcare delivery

This HSJ supplement explores a range of issues and case studies where digital health has been implemented.

The 10 steps to make technology work in local healthcare

This HSJ article sets out a number of factors that make a positive difference to progressing technology enabled change in health and social care communities.

Technology enabled care services: resource for commissioners

Developed by NHS commissioners, this resource identifies practical tools that can help maximise the value of technology enabled care services for patients, carers, commissioners and the whole health economy.

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