Data Driven Futures

NHS ‘should prescribe HealthTech devices’

Written by Peter Walker

The NHS should prescribe HealthTech options like smart scales and fitness trackers to those unable to purchase them, according to a new report.

The Social Market Foundation think tank suggested that there are “huge opportunities” to keep patients away from burdening NHS services by using digital technologies.

However, the report stated that if personal technologies, such as wearables or smart home devices, become a primary delivery channel for improving health outcomes, there is a “significant risk” that only those who can afford the latest devices are able to benefit.

“This raises the question of how technology may influence the ability of the NHS to continue to offer a universal service accessible to all, if those from the most affluent backgrounds have better access to cutting edge health technology,” it read.

In order to help close the inequality gap further, the report called on the NHS to prescribe digital skills classes to those who struggle to keep up with the pace of technological change.

Other policy recommendations included initiating a debate on electronic patient records and how information is used, establishing clear priorities for digital services, pursuing integration as a priority project and securing the right to digital services in the NHS Constitution.

Kathryn Petrie, senior economist and author of the report, said: “Technology has the potential to deliver better healthcare, but it is vitally important that those benefits are available to all, and not just the people with the means to take full advantage.

“There is a risk that unequal access to health technology will further exacerbate the existing health inequalities in the UK,” she added.

Earlier this month, health secretary Matt Hancock has announced his ambitions for the NHS Long Term Plan to expand and improve online access to NHS services.

Under the plan, every patient will get the right to choose a ‘digital first’ approach to primary healthcare, meaning that more of the 307 million patient consultations with GPs each year would in future be offered online, through video consultation, as well as face to face. Hospital outpatient clinics will also be redesigned with more ‘virtual clinics’ involving video consultations with consultants and nurses, supplemented by face-to-face appointments where necessary.

Previously, Hancock admitted NHS technology the systems of the past “haven’t been good enough” and promised to upgrade healthcare via the government’s new NHSX organisation.

“I’ve tried to eliminate outdated, old tech like fax machines, pagers, and dial-up because the wrong tech can make life more difficult for our NHS staff,” he stated. “We must drive innovation and improvement across the NHS, combining the best of the healthcare culture with the best of the tech culture, seeking continuous improvement to save and improve lives.”

In March, innovative digital technology projects to address healthcare challenged received a £9 million funding boost through the government’s Digital Health Technology Catalyst. Delivered by UK Research and Innovation, it aims to accelerate the development of digital health innovation, under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.