Key insights on the Digital Citizens roundtable

Last Thursday, techUK hosted a roundtable on the future of public-facing health technology. This is part of a new 'Digital Citizens' working group. The roundtable brought together NHS Digital and techUK members to discuss their roles to improve health and social care outcomes. techUK hosted the roundtable to give members a chance to discuss any opportunities and concerns they have with the current policy in this area. It also opened strategic talks with NHS Digital’s Citizen Health team.

The purpose of the working group is to work together on digital citizens (public facing health technology) ecosystem, improve the openness of data to empower the public with data and digital tools. Before the main discussion began, NHS Digital updated the working group with the most recent developments in this area. This included: the NHS login, the NHS app, the NHS Apps library, the wearables programme and Personal Health Records (PHR).

NHS Digital informed the working group of the upcoming launch of the automated version of the NHS Apps Library. This will speed up the accreditation process of new apps. One of the biggest challenges that both industry and NHS Digital are facing is widening digital participation. NHS Digital will shortly be publishing a digital inclusion guide, to help the tech industry tackle this and prevent a digital divide between the public and suppliers. They have recently adjusted their strategy to focus on more on the needs of the patient/citizen, and digital inclusion will be a large part of this.

Improving public trust will also help to secure this vision. Integrated services, for example, will stop patients from needing to log into multiple channels to access their personal health information. This will inspire public confidence in private health companies accessing their health data. Furthermore, integrating data across multiple services will inspire confidence in data sharing overall. As NHS Digital discussed in their presentation, it is fundamental that the health industry plays a major role in developing and implementing this. NHS Digital concluded their presentation by informing the group that the latest version of the NHS App will soon be published, and members can read more about it in the new ‘Empower the Person roadmap’. NHS Digital asked the room to use the opportunity of the working group to work together and improve patient outcomes.

The roundtable focused on commercial needs and barriers faced by members working in the sector. One of the points raised was that health providers are less willing to buy services and apps from the industry because of conflicting information about the NHS App. For example, that the app would eventually release a feature that would compete with a product a specific company was looking to sell. This effectively closes off the market to many SME’s and smaller organisations. To prevent this further clarification is needed.

Many of the companies at the event had built apps encouraging the patient to manage their own health. However, generally, take up within the health service around the adoption of this type of technology is low, particularly in social care settings. Therefore, more needs to be done to educate primary, secondary and social care practitioners on the importance of wearables and monitoring devices to empower the patient. At a grassroots level, these groups are resisting change, which means patients/citizens often come last.

More needs to be done to collectively scale up, challenge and encourage clinical users to change their work in practice. One example to create change is to foster a working environment where clinicians are more open to citizens doing end to end transactions. This would allow the patient/ individual to manage their own personal health information. However, further conversations are needed with the wider industry and NHS about how citizens across the spectrum can be enabled to control their data, safeguards required and how this control may affect care pathways. 

The working group noted that there is a wide range of technology challenges impacted by socioeconomic factors. For example, it is much harder to collect patient monitoring data from those in lower socioeconomic backgrounds, because of a general lack of access to these technologies. Finally, the group debated how social care technology fits in with the current ecosystem. As a result, a representative was appointed to report between the Social Care working group and Digital Citizen’s working group.

The next working group meeting will be in July. If you would like more information and would like to find out more information, please email: 

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