Jeremy Hunt has announced a series of new promises on online access to healthcare information, with a view to ensuring the next 10 years come to be known as the NHS’s “patient power decade”.
In a keynote speech which yesterday closed the 2017 Health and Care Innovation Expo, the secretary of state for health said that new online services will be in place by the end of next year.
This includes app or online access for all patients to the NHS urgent but non-emergency 111 service.
All patients will also be able to access their own GP medical record through an app, and use online means to detail the ways in which they do and do not want their information shared.
Hunt said this would be a means of addressing controversies over whether people should have to explicitly opt in or opt out of their anonymised data being shared for research.
These were exemplified by the care.data programme, which was scrapped in part because of concerns around consent.
“We want to transform that debate for NHS patients by saying that whatever your preferences are, you can go online at any time, access your medical record, and through an app change those preferences in one direction or another.”
Such a setup would be the first in the world, Hunt reported.
He indicated that in the longer term the aim was to “marry” medical records and apps. Linking online 111 to patient information would mean a symptom checker could ask questions appropriate to that individual, he said.
“That would mean you could have a smart Q&A service, which would mean much more accurate diagnosis, a quicker diagnosis and a much better service for patients. Also, of course, a cheaper service for the NHS.”
He suggested there were similar plans for the programs available via the NHS App Library. This suite of apps – not built by the NHS, but checked and approved by it – could ‘quiz’ users’ medical records.
“For example if you have diabetes and you’re put on an exercise programme by your GP, if you give your consent, then information from your Fitbit can find its way through an app onto your medical record, so that you can have a discussion with your doctor about how much exercise you’re actually doing. This I think will be very transformative.”
Hunt also announced that 90 additional datasets had been added to MyNHS, the website intended to help patients compare the performance of their local care services.
He said a £100,000 MyNHS open data challenge was being launched, “for the best apps and ideas that harness for information for the benefit of NHS patients”.
Amid the focus on the digital patient, Hunt stressed that alternative means of access would always be available for those who did not want to use internet-enabled services. But, he said, “we recognise how many people, particularly older people, actually do want to get online”.
This is why, he said, he was announcing the creation of 20 more digital inclusion hubs over the next three years, designed to help more people benefit from online health services.
As expected, the secretary of state also used his speech to announce the first of the global digital exemplar (GDE) fast followers. These organisations will partner with existing GDEs, with the intention of rapidly accelerating their digital maturity.
Hunt named 18 fast follower trusts, which will each receive up to £5 million of government funding. They will be expected to match that investment.
He said there was the intention to name seven mental health fast followers in due course, and that the fast follower list was a “fluid” one.
“If you’re not on it just yet, that doesn’t mean to say that you won’t have the opportunity to get on the list.”
The first wave of acute GDEs were named at last year’s Expo conference, as a response to Bob Wachter’s review of NHS IT.