The Digital Healthcare Council has outlined its four key design principles it believes are essential for a sustainable digital health industry.

When designing digital health solutions designers, providers and policy makers should consider people first; fair system rules; free and open information; and evidence-based practice, the council said.

It called on the government to address digital health “more extensively and effectively” in order to tackle challenges access and unacceptable waiting times.

Graham Kendall, director of the council, said: “We have set out four key areas that an incoming Government must get right if patients are going to fully benefit from digital health provision.

“The principles encapsulate some profound challenges, for example, genuinely shaping provision to respond to patient choices is often far harder than limiting choice to options that are convenient for the status quo.

“Digital care provides ideal tools to address geographic inequalities, and while it will always be essential to have face-to-face care, it would be a travesty if we artificially limit services available to patients based on their postcodes.”

The paper states “huge” benefits can be expected for patients across the country, including those who struggle to access services, if the principles are employed correctly.

People first

Decisions should always be driven primarily from a patient perspective, responding to their needs and preferences, the DHC paper states.

Digital is “perfectly placed” to shift care away from traditional interventions towards more personal interventions, it added.

“In a universal health system, it therefore follows that a choice of digital health solutions must be available to all, and that funding flows must follow patients’ preferences without disadvantaging those who choose to consume their care solely offline.”

Fair system rules

This principle covers two areas: Patient-centred market rules and regulation.

Those who make investment decision should keep patients in mind, the DHC said.

It added: “The centre has a fundamental role in tackling these challenges: when faced with new digital opportunities, we need to shift from building processes to defining patient-centred objectives.”

Regulatory professional bodies, often designed for the “analogue age”, need to adapt to a “faster pace of change than ever before”.

Traditional approaches will be challenged by profession, geography and devices, whereas digital can help alleviate these challenges, the paper states.

Free and open information

Data is often “inaccessible, locked in closed systems or with meaning that is lost because of a lack of standardised data structures and poor meta data”, the paper adds.

The DHC called for the adoption of two key approaches to better inform the development of digital health solutions: Patient data belongs first and foremost to  the patient; procure open, interoperable solutions by default.

“To make real progress, we recommend an incentive-based approach whereby healthcare providers are financially rewarded for achieving a small number of clear strategically chosen targets that rely on implementing interoperability.”

Build the evidence base

All digital health solutions should be based on evidence, the council said.

“Potentially, every interaction can generate a depth of data that provides previously unimaginable insights into patient behaviour, the impact of environmental factors on health and the effectiveness of specific interventions.”

These insights should be used to inform development, it added.

Kendall said that progress has been made in many areas, adding: “We’ve seen clear moves from the NHS to ask less ‘how do we, the centre, build’ and more ‘how do we support the community to develop solutions to achieve our goals?’.

“We call on all the political parties to adopt and build on that approach because it’s the best way to maximise developer resources available to the health service.

“Despite progress, there remain major challenges that will face the new Government. For example, for years, we’ve talked about interoperability and opening up data but progress has been painfully slow. That’s why we’ve produced these principles which we hope will be used as a yardstick to guide and inform decision making.”