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Revolutionary, chaotic, or stagnating? The future of digital tech in health and care in the UK

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Despite significant investment and well over a decade of different transformation plans and initiatives, there’s still much to do before the health and care system has truly gone through a digital revolution.

It is inarguable that the change process has already started, and the seeds we are planting now will determine the future of digital health and care. It’s difficult, perhaps impossible, to predict the future, especially considering the health and care system is complex. I’ve been wrestling with some questions to look deeper at the seeds being sown and understand where digital health and care is heading.

Is the development of digital tools being driven by the needs of staff and patients?

Suppose users (staff and patients) don’t drive the selection and use of new digital tools. In that case, these tools will likely not solve the fundamental problems facing the health and care system, and they may not fit workflows, creating inefficiencies and duplication. At best, a small subset of users is currently selecting new digital tools. This means only a subset of user priorities drives technology selection, making it unlikely solutions will fully address user needs. If the technology selected does not work for users, time and effort go into developing workarounds, adding more complexity to workflows and cognitive burden.

Are we developing digital tools that make life easier, better, and more effective for patients and staff?

For digital technologies to be the go-to solution, they need to work well for all staff and patients. This also creates a culture more readily accepting of the increased use of digital technologies. Currently, persistent fundamental problems mean high levels of continued dissatisfaction with digital technology. This can perpetuate a reluctance to engage in digital change.

The design and implementation of technology have a decisive determining factor in how it affects staff. Research shows electronic health records (EHRs), a key technology for the digitalization of health and care, can have below acceptable useability. This is linked to increased cognitive burden and burnout due to non-intuitive implementation into pathways. But we also know digital tools like EHRs can drive improvements in patient safety, safeguarding, and medicines optimization. Similarly, data-driven systems can improve population health and resource allocation, while AI can improve accuracy, reproducibility, and speed of services. But the technology also has knock-on implications by placing new demands on staff, with data-driven care meaning a need for higher quantities and quality of data but the limitations of digital systems risk highly skilled clinical teams becoming data clerks.

NHS Digital Academy and local training programs create a digitally competent workforce, increasing staff confidence to use and engage with the development of digital tools and pathways. However, the tools supplied need to work for digitally qualified staff without becoming technical experts.

Is technology helping or hindering greater equality in outcomes and access?

How technology and digital healthcare information are designed and implemented can exclude or include different groups of people based on the complex interplay of numerous variables, such as device access, skills, culture, and language. For example, a patient portal gives patients access to their health and care information but is often designed with a narrowly defined user. Instead of empowering people, they exclude many. Researchers of data-driven tools are concerned that their effectiveness depends on data quantity and diversity, which can be highly non-representative. This means it’s doubtful that a single solution will work effectively for each individual within a diverse community.

However, providers and services commonly prefer a single tool for a specific task. It’s likely the combination of procurement approaches and scarce resources incentivize this. National procurement sets a price cap but allows for local purchasing agreements, so the price can be negotiated locally often for exclusivity, locking in selecting a single tool. A diverse range of tools for various patients and staff could lead to better outcomes. Incentivizing using a single digital device and the difficulty of interchanging tools means settling for a digital agency with an unequal performance from one demographic to the next. This could mean unequal care services, risking worsening inequalities and unequal care.

Is there a sustainable supply of good value digital technologies?

The Secretary of State recently highlighted the financial sustainability of the NHS as a challenge, and in the long-term, we need to consider the role technology has to play. The common assumption is digitalization will cut healthcare costs, but this is only true if specific criteria can be met, including benefitting from consumer technologies, interchangeable tools, and preventing incumbent legacy tools. One of the many drivers of digital health transformation is the consumer technology boom. But consumer technology develops faster than medical and health technologies – robust regulation and evidence are essential to ensure safety, efficacy, and value, but this takes time. The military and defense sector invests heavily in technology and has been caught by the increasing cost of trying to maintain legacy technology. A long-term strategy for digital health needs to ensure the health and care system can have a vibrant supply chain at national and global levels to keep costs competitive and encourage innovation while avoiding embedding incumbents.

A dynamic implementation environment must complement a vibrant supply of digital tools – arguably, one cannot exist without the other – but the NHS struggles with scale, spread and adoption. The digital health technology ecosystem is incredibly fragmented and consolidated in different parts. Historical approaches to digitalizing in siloes and by tasks have created a health and care system beset with siloed technologies with varying degrees of overlapping functionality. This constrains the supplier market dynamics as the incumbent systems grow in complexity and capability, becoming more challenging to replace. New entrants have higher barriers to entry which stifles innovation and reduces the leverage alternative solutions enable. This creates a supply chain where suppliers face significant challenges becoming established or scaling.

Today’s seeds turn into the fruits of tomorrow.

The vision for digital health and care is compelling. We’ve seen and experienced how transformative it can be in each digitalization sector; sectors are as diverse as banking, media, and transport. We’ve learned about its potential in health and care, and while it’s yet to be realized, there’s been tantalizing glimmers of potential.

However, in our rush to digitalize, the seeds we are planting today are not necessarily the ones that will grow the fruit we aspire to have in the future. Instead, we may have tools that poorly suit the problems we seek to solve, add burden on staff, become increasingly expensive while increasing inequalities. Focusing on achieving digitalization isn’t enough; there’s an equal need to scrutinize the future state of digital health and have a more active role in shaping how digital tools are developed, supplied, and implemented.

Nargis Abbasi

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Innovative Alchemists: Unleashing the Genius of Technical Masterminds

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In the dynamic realm where circuits hum, code weaves its intricate dance, and innovation is the currency, there exists a league of individuals who transcend the ordinary—Technical Masterminds. These aren’t just engineers, developers, or architects; they are the innovative alchemists, turning bits and bytes into technological gold. Join us as we delve into the minds of these visionaries, exploring the unparalleled genius and transformative power that defines the world of Technical Masterminds.

“Tech Alchemy Unleashed: Decoding the Minds of Technical Masterminds” is not just a title; it’s an exploration into the wizardry of those who navigate the digital realms with finesse. This article is an invitation to unravel the layers of creativity, problem-solving prowess, and visionary thinking that set Technical Masterminds apart in the ever-evolving landscape of technology.

At the heart of this exploration lies an acknowledgment of the diverse skills that Technical Masterminds possess. “Tech Alchemy Unleashed” delves into the unique blend of logic, creativity, and analytical thinking that defines their approach to solving complex technological challenges. From coding marvels to hardware innovations, Technical Masterminds are the architects of a digital revolution.

A standout feature is the adaptability and foresight woven into the fabric of Technical Masterminds’ endeavors. “Tech Alchemy Unleashed” explores how these individuals not only master existing technologies but also anticipate and shape the technologies of tomorrow. Their insatiable curiosity and commitment to continuous learning set them apart as true pioneers in the tech landscape.

Technical Masterminds are not confined by the constraints of the present; they are the architects of the future. “Tech Alchemy Unleashed” illustrates how these individuals envision possibilities beyond the immediate horizon, pioneering solutions that have the potential to reshape the technological landscape.

As we navigate through the digital alchemy of Technical Masterminds, the article becomes a celebration of the minds that fuel the technological marvels we encounter daily. It’s a recognition that, in the realm of technology, Technical Masterminds are the driving force behind progress and innovation.

“Tech Alchemy Unleashed: Decoding the Minds of Technical Masterminds” is not just an article; it’s an ode to the alchemists who turn lines of code into digital symphonies, who engineer solutions that redefine industries, and who navigate the complexities of the tech landscape with unwavering expertise.

As Technical Masterminds continue to chart their course in the ever-expanding horizon of technology, “Tech Alchemy Unleashed” invites us to appreciate the brilliance, the ingenuity, and the transformative spirit that defines these individuals. It’s an exploration of the minds that turn tech dreams into reality, leaving an indelible mark on the digital tapestry of our interconnected world.

Harry Clam

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