The NHS needs to make greater use of information and web 2.0 technologies if individuals are to engage more with their health and healthcare, the King’s Fund think-tank has argued.

In a report on a round-table involving policy, health service and IT experts, the King’s Fund says the health service needs to adopt new technologies faster if it is to reach the “fully engaged” scenario envisaged by Sir Derek Wanless in 2002.

The “fully engaged” scenario was one of three scenarios created by the former head of NatWest when the Treasury asked him to predict the future funding needs of the health service.

It envisaged people taking more control of their health and making better use of a health service that, in turn, made more efficient and effective use of its resources. It was significantly cheaper than the alternative “solid progress” and “slow uptake” scenarios.

Sir Derek’s work helped to persuade the government to spend more on healthcare IT and to set up the National Programme for IT in the NHS. But the new report says technology is still significantly under-developed and under-deployed in the health service.

Report author Anna Dixon said: “There are information technologies in most homes and pockets that could transform healthcare and the way it is delivered. Yet patient’s can’t even use the most basic technologies, such as using email to book GP appointments or using the internet to view their health records online.”

The Engaging Patients in their Health report, one of two IT reports to be published on the King’s Fund’s website this week, says there is scope for more personalised information to help patients understand and make their decisions about their health.

“The idea that hospitals should produce mortality rates would have been unthinkable a generation ago, now there is already comparative data available in a number of areas,” it notes.

Since the round table was held last year, Lord Darzi’s Next Stage Review of the NHS has made it clear that patients will have access to validated information about the organisations and individuals who provide them with care. The DH launched a tender for a quality mark scheme this week.

The report also highlights the work done by the Foundation for Informed Decision Making in the US and Dipex in the UK which recently launched two new web 2.0 health sites.

However, it feels there is considerable scope for other health information sites to capitalise on emerging web technology to allow individuals to create their own content.

The report also argues that technology could play a much greater role in identifying patients who would benefit from health interventions, and in helping GPs to support patients with long-term conditions.

Ms Dixon said: “The patient of the future, especially people with chronic illnesses like diabetes, will demand the use of technologies that make it much easier and more convenient for them to receive the care and treatment they need.”

The King’s Fund also issued a Technology in the NHS report this week. This also argues that the NHS is not making enough use of everyday technologies such as email.

However, it then goes on to explore some of the barriers to the take-up of technology in the health service. It set up an “ideal scenario” in which there is ample finance for technology, the NHS has the technology it needs, and there is leadership for its adoption at every level from ministers to patients.

Technology in the NHS says that to reach this scenario, ministers and the Department of Health need to make it clear that spending on new technology is a priority, and to create a “manifesto” for technology in the NHS.

It says national bodies should work closely with suppliers and run trials to show what works; that strategic health authorities should unlock “silos” of funding; and that trusts and clinicians should encourage consumers to demand new, technology-enabled services.

“The aim should be to develop a critical mass of users sufficient to generate a ‘viral marketing effect’ to drive uptake on a wider basis,” it says.


The King’s Fund